Resource-efficient farming in the Western Port region

SECCCA conducted an inventory of emissions sources across its councils and found that industry contributed 16% of total regional emissions. In Bass Coast and Cardinia Shires, the dominant industry is agriculture, consequently the Agricultural Resource Efficiency Project was conceived as a means of assisting farmers in emission reductions.

The South East Councils Climate Change Alliance (SECCCA) formed as a result of regional councils wanting to collaborate in greenhouse gas emission reductions. SECCCA conducted an inventory of emissions sources across its councils and found that industry contributed 16% of total regional emissions. In Bass Coast and Cardinia Shires, the dominant industry is agriculture, consequently the Agricultural Resource Efficiency Project was conceived as a means of assisting farmers in emission reductions.

Sustainability Victoria, through the Sustainability Fund, supported SECCCA to work with 25 beef and 25 dairy farmers to deliver the following environmental performance improvements:

  • 10% reduction in energy use
  • 15% reduction in water use and
  • 10% reduction in waste going to landfill

at the same time as lift farm productivity.

Farmers were recruited through the two local landcare networks, the Bass Coast Landcare Network and the Westernport Catchment Landcare Network, which also provided Environmental Best Management Practice training as a precondition to them joining the program. Following their induction, farmers received on-farm visits from Genesis Now, an environmental audit company selected by SECCCA through an EoI process, to develop an action plan for delivering upon the project targets.

The auditors and the farmers considered as much documentation regarding the farming operations as was possible, including bills for energy, water, fuel and fertilizer and income statements such as the milk cheque and beef sales. They looked over maps and aerial photographs, considered whole-farm management plans and discussed the farmers’ long-term plans for the property. They explored possible shifts in produce, changes to animal and pasture management practices, what might be feasible future investments – in short they tested everything that related to farm performance, socially, economically and environmentally.

The auditors then developed with the farmer an action plan based upon this information. They looked at perhaps the 10 ten most likely actions to be considered for implementation and developed a business case for each of them. What was the capital cost? What would be long-term savings that would result? What is the consequent return on investment? What savings would result in resource use? In greenhouse gas emission reductions?

Compiling the data in this manner meant that the farmer could use his or her usual decision-making processes to consider what investments they might in their farm to improve both productivity and environmental performance. Farmers are then given modest grants which they must match, to implement selected actions and allow a calculation of the performance improvements that result. Early indications are that such actions as installing solar pumps, using heat exchangers to cool milk, using evaporation retardants to conserve dam water, making greater use of windbreaks to conserve soil moisture and planting drought-tolerant pasture species deliver considerable benefit to farms. A professional evaluator is a member of the project team that oversees the project. He will deliver a Lessons Learnt report such that the project can influence farm practice across Victoria and beyond.

The project, which will wind up in the first half of 2010, is on track to show savings much greater than the targets. The methodology developed through the project – the audit tools, processes for documenting farm performance, the full inventory of actions possible and the business case approach – is available for dissemination to other beef and dairy farmers and to other agricultural and horticultural industries in SECCCA member councils. Operators of broiler sheds involved in involved in chicken meat production, aquaculturalists, vignerons, fruit and berry growers and the region’s market gardeners could be involved in an application of the project methodology to improve their economic and environmental performance.

SECCCA is considering a range of models for disseminating the project. While SV finding will not be available in the future, private sector finance could be sought or councils might, through their economic development departments, support an indicative range of operators to show the usefulness of this approach more widely in their regions. This could involve the council making a budget allocation in the vicinity of $1000 – $2000 per participating operation to cover the audit and action plan development. The benefits that will result, when presented to the region more generally, will assist in the move to better environmental performance and to more productive farms.

We need our farms to remain profitable and we need them to have minimal environmental impact. The project listed below investigates how to achieve both aims: Reduce environmental impact, lift productivity: a win-win project for farmers

 

 

Project

Resource-efficient farming in the Western Port region

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