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National Farmers Federation needs to abandon farm wars and embrace climate adaption

By David C. Paull

At a critical time when farmer lobby groups should be showing leadership in order to maximise the opportunities that new climate-adapted agriculture can offer, the National Farmers Federation have decided to back with the climate-denying National Party and continue with ambit claims based on disinformation that undermines the credibility of Australia at Glasgow COP26.

Standing on her Namoi Valley property for the ABC camera the head of the National Farmers Federation (NFF), Fiona Simson states her position for giving farmers a fair go under any future international agreement to reduce greenhouse emissions.

Key to this is idea repeated by the Nationals recently in the media by David Littleproud and Keith Pitt is to ‘reward farmers for their stewardship of the land’ but more than that as Fiona articulated to the ABC, farmers need ‘compensation’ for ‘doing the heavy lifting’ imposed on them through Kyoto Agreement, that being to retain bushland – which has resulted in a loss of income for farmers.

As Fiona put it, the obligations imposed on farmers under Kyoto has created a “festering sore created by statutory theft”. Essentially her claims follow the line that the Commonwealth made Kyoto commitments resulting in farmer’s property rights being taken away by the states to enforce these commitments, in doing so, halting land clearing and creating a surplus of credits.

As reported by the Guardian, the NFF says it supports an economy-wide aspiration of net zero emissions by 2050, but with two conditions. It says emissions reduction needs to be economically viable, and farmers must not be burdened by “unnecessary regulation”.

There is a lot to unpack here, but the NFF claims just don’t stack up.

The uptake of workable carbon sequestration schemes has been delayed

Currently carbon sequestration schemes (both for soil and vegetation) for landowners have had a limited rollout and impact. This has primarily been because the government’s failure till recently to link soil carbon with an income stream and has not provided credits for the retention of remnant vegetation, along with other practical issues of the schemes reducing their effectiveness. This has primarily been the fault of the recalcitrance of the National Party and the NFF who have generally been very cautious in supporting carbon-friendly methods.

The NFF has recently welcomed the carbon saving proposals of the Farmers for Climate Action but warned that it could not support any reforestation of ‘productive lands’, ie. lands with better soils that have suffered disproportionately higher levels of biodiversity loss.

Importantly, as reported recently in the Guardian, when the first vegetation laws to regulate land-clearing in NSW and Queensland were introduced, these had nothing to do with international carbon commitments but were due to concerns of widespread land-clearing and its impacts on biodiversity and water. Kyoto came some seven years after these laws were introduced. Despite this, Simson claimed that the government needed to compensate landholders for land clearing regulations that pre-dated the Kyoto period as a “goodwill exercise”.

Private land vegetation laws have not prevented land clearing

Despite the platitudes of Government sources and those who have accepted this dogma, the introduction of private land vegetation laws in the erly-1990s was not the end of land-clearing at all. While the initial introduction saw the levels fall to what may be viewed from an environmental perspective to acceptable levels (up to 1 million hectares a year in Queensland between 1988-1990), subsequent changes to laws in Queensland and NSW has seen levels rise. If we look at land clearing statistics since 2001, approximately 5 million hectares has been cleared Queensland, while 2.5 million hectares has been cleared in NSW in the same time (see WWF report here).

These figures include regrowth vegetation, but do not include illegal clearing undertaken outside the vegetation rules and largely unaccounted for in the official figures which is allowed clearing.

Emissions from Land use change still rising

According to the Government’s latest prediction in 2020, emissions from the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) sector (which includes land-clearing, or ‘forest converted to other uses’) went from a total contribution of 91 MtC02-e (second biggest contributor to electricity) in 2001 to a negative contribution as a net sink in 2020 (-18 MtCO2-e). How can this be, given the ongoing levels of land-clearing during this period with a more recent spike since 2016?

The LULCF category is broken down in the March 2021 update to the national emissions figures (below). According to the government, while grasslands, wetlands and croplands have remained more or less neutral, ‘land converted to forest’ (natural regrowth) and ‘forest land remaining forest’ have largely offset this loss from clearing. How this is the case from the graph is not clear.



Even so, the Government is predicting another rise in the LULUCF category to 2030 when it will be -5 MtCO2-e, a decrease of 13Mt equivalents (Table 2, p.13 of the 2020 Projections report).

Overall, the government states that:

Emissions to 2030 are projected to grow four per cent above 2020 levels, driven by higher emissions from LNG production, increased transport activity, a declining forest sink … and growth in agricultural activity after a return to average seasonal conditions.”

The government is factoring in further expected carbon losses due to decline in vegetation and soil carbon. In other words, they are not at all serious about future on-farm carbon sequestration.

There has been minimal loss of ‘property rights’

A re-occurring claim by the farming lobby and the National Party is that farmers have lost property rights to secure Australia’s emissions targets. This claim arises from the assumption that farmers have every right to remove every tree and bush from their properties and that there exists no public interest which should stand in their way.

One way of looking at this is to examine to what extent land has been set aside from routine agricultural practice, or as lobbyists say, “locked up”. In fact, native vegetation laws in Queensland and NSW have to a large degree accommodated the assumptions of preserving property rights through a large number of exemptions which require no approval and an application process to be able to clear that makes most remnant vegetation and regrowth still open for clearing and modification.

In Queensland mapped ‘high risk’ zones may still be cleared upon application, though endangered regional ecosystems cannot be removed. In NSW, endangered ecosystems can be cleared under certain circumstances as this state has embraced a system of self-assessment, whereby oversight by government experts is no longer necessary.

While Queensland now relies upon prohibiting clearing from the most sensitive ecosystems, NSW relies more on conservation agreements, which are in fact, voluntary. Most private land conservation agreements entered into by landholders are now registered under the Biodiversity Conservation trust (BCT). Many of these are agreements with sunset clauses, (10-15 year agreements) while considerably fewer are ‘in perpetuity’. There are over 2,000 private land conservation agreements in NSW of various types suggesting a good uptake by landowners willing to enter such agreements.

The Commonwealth also enters into conservation agreements, but has made little contribution with only 25 such agreements currently on their books, most arising through legal actions against the landowner or by the odd large corporation as signs of goodwill.

So as the nation waits with bated breath as to the contents of the National Party’s ‘list of demands’ for Australia to take to Glasgow, ones wonders if it will contain the usual claims made by the private property and mining lobbies that have featured so strongly within the policy positions of the Party.

It has been stated in the media that senior government players have been signalling agriculture will likely be excluded from any heavy lifting on abatement – but not from the income streams associated with carbon sequestration. Setting up a carbon abatement scheme which provides incentive for landowners to retain remnant vegetation, improve soils and revegetated their properties should be the priority outcome.

However, given the ongoing farm wars based on essentially a re-write of history, misleading information and luke-warm commitments to farmers, will the position of the NFF and the National Party in fact jeopardise a legitimate voice for the agricultural sector and our chances of securing a forward-looking carbon plan for the agricultural sector? Judging by the past performance of these parties, only a fresh vision, such as championed by the Farmers for Climate Action is likely to give this country any credibility in the international sphere.


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  1. kinf1394

    LULUCF must be the worst acronym ever. Even when unpacked to Land use, Land use change and Forestry it is difficult to understand.

  2. New England Cocky

    The NFF President is not the brightest bulb in the factory and generally does as as she is directed by the unelected political hacks in the Nazional$ Party.

    To understand NFF politics is simple ….. just allow farmers to rape the land and pay them enormous amounts of subsidies so that they can live the life of Riley sponging off the community for all they can get. Everything must be paid for by the government because farmers are unwilling to invest their own finance in their own properties improvements or change management practices from Grandad’s ”did it this way, so it must be right”.

    In New England a 2,ooo acre grazing property can be managed by one person with experienced casual weekend labour according to work done by the late Jack Mackim at UNE.

  3. Goog

    Reading the book “Sold down the River” by Scott Hamilton and Stuart Kells tells of the mega corporates are screwing the family farmers , the water traders have no laws regulating their insider trading and the ‘ bots’ they use to spook farmers into selling or having to buy water

  4. Kerri

    Maybe the farmers shouldn’t have voted for the party/ies that consistently sell off Crown land for short term profit?

  5. leefe

    Farmers with this mindset need to find new ways of doing things. Learn about the benefits of regenerative agriculture, start applying the principles. You don’t have to keep doing things the way you do, it benefits no-one in the long run except the big industrial agriculture corporations.

  6. wam

    It is my land, my water and my trees so effoff and let me be to administer my land. Why not trust them? We can see that those who obeyed the law and looked after the land are upset enough, by the future payment to those who didn’t, to demand compensation.
    ps NEC: In addition to a Bachelor of Arts in Japanese language, Journalism and Government, she has post graduate management qualifications including a Masters in Organizational Leadership, she is a graduate from the Australian Institute of Company Directors and has undertaken an executive leadership course with John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.
    She seems to have a pretty bright filament??

  7. New England Cocky

    @wam: Fair comment. I base my opinion on personal interaction regarding the first reports of CSG poisoning water, blowing up kitchen sinks and being totally unusable.

    “Do you think those pictures are real, or just propaganda form the left”?

    ”Perhaps you had better go over to the USA locations and see the evidence firsthand to be convinced”.

    ”You can not trust media companies to tell the truth ….. ”

    Collecting academic qualifications for some people can be the same as collecting stamps. When you are sitting in the middle of a 6,000 acre property then reading is always an excelle3nt diversion.

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