Australia Opens Environmental Farm Management Plan

CAMDEN, New South Wales, Australia, November 28, 2002 (ENS) - The governments of Australia and News South Wales joined forces today to establish a voluntary national Environmental Management Systems framework for agricultural producers. This business management tool is intended to help producers provide evidence of their commitment to the environment.

Commonwealth Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Judith Troeth, and NSW Minister for Agriculture, Richard Amery, launched the framework at Belgenny Farm, Camden.


Commonwealth Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Judith Troeth with a sheep (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
"I am delighted that commonwealth, state and territory governments have made a commitment to cooperative partnerships and a single national approach to Environmental Management Systems," Senator Troeth said.

Adopted in October by all Commonwealth, State and Territory governments at the Natural Resources Management Ministerial Council, the framework is founded on a process standard compatible with the International Standard ISO 14001.

Amery said, "An Environmental Management System requires a farm business to identify all its potential environmental impacts and prioritize actions for managing those impacts in a cost effective way."

"We look forward to continue working with land managers, industries and community groups in ensuring that EMS is a useful tool and appropriately supported," the minister said.

Len Banks, chair of the EMS Working Group, wrote in the Forward to the official document describing the system, "It is through public interest and market pressure that everyone involved in agriculture is increasingly aware of the need to manage agriculture's impacts on the environment in a positive and sustainable way."

The EMS framework is voluntary to satisfy the National Farmers' Federation (NFF). On behalf of the producers of Australia’s A$31 billion agricultural sector, NFF has taken the position that the biggest threat to the economic fundamentals of Australia’s agricultural sector is the increasing encroachment of federal and state environmental legislation and regulation on farm management.

"Farmers fear community expectations and legislative changes are undermining the commercial viability of farming, eroding their assets, reducing their income and impacting on farm management practices," the NFF has said.


National Farmers' Federation president Ian Donges (Photo courtesy NFF)
NFF president Ian Donges said farmers are environmentally responsible custodians of 70 percent of Australia’s landmass and are committed to sustainable farm management practices to ensure viable agricultural industries for future generations.

“Providing farmers with incentives and rewards for managing their properties to balance productivity and environmental sustainability will result in much better outcomes than complex, heavy-handed legislation that potentially undermines farmers’ assets and income generation ability,” he said back in October 2001.

The national framework provides a consistent way for the voluntary adoption of Environmental Management Systems through a set of simple generic principles. It aims to encourage farmers to work out, on an individual basis, ways in which they can reduce the environmental impact of their farms, the Commonwealth and state governments said today.

The council says the EMS framework is "neither an alternative to regulation nor regulation by stealth," but an "engine of change, helping managers adapt to meet changing demands placed on their operations by more stringent environmental legislation, evolving pressures from markets, community or industry."

Integrating environmental management into all farming activities provides opportunities to reduce the costs of implementing environmental works and complying with environmental regulations, and may provide a level of protection from prosecution under environmental legislation in some circumstances, the council wrote.

The standards may give rise to an ecolabel for agricultural products, but this outcome is not prescribed or assured.


Frogmore Creek Vineyard in Tasmania produces organic wines - Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris (Photo courtesy Frogmore Creek)
Many of Australia's agricultural industries are investigating Environmental Management Systems, including the grains, livestock, dairy, wool, rice, sugar, cotton, wine and aquaculture industries, as well as producers of a range of horticultural commodities such as bananas, citrus, tomatoes and potatoes.

The EMS framework is expected to encourage practical collaboration between landholders, catchment and land care groups, industries and all levels of government.

The Commonwealth Government has funded a national EMS training course, which was developed by NSW Agriculture through the Tocal Agricultural College. The Australian government has produced an EMS National Training kit, with input from NSW Agriculture, to make training more available for interested landholders.

The kit includes an instructor's manual, a training video and examples of how to incorporate catchment/regional objectives and biodiversity into an EMS.

"The intended outcome," the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council said, "is an agricultural sector in which all parties are confident that they are managing in a way that conducts business well and provides a systematic approach to identifying and managing environmental, legal and commercial risk."