La Trobe University has been awarded $2.5 million for a project aimed at improving environmental performance and climate resilience among agricultural producers.
Minister for Agriculture Senator Bridget McKenzie and Member for Nicholls Damian Drum announced funding this week for the National Landcare Program, Smart Farming Partnerships initiative, calling it a “cutting edge” approach to putting value on farms’ natural assets and sustainable practices.
La Trobe Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Industry Engagement) Professor Susan Dodds said the project would enhance agricultural productivity at a time when new approaches to sustainable farming were in demand.
“The successful consortium, developed and led by La Trobe, will provide a means for farmers who adopt sustainable practices to measure the benefit of their efforts to improve our environment. It is important work, and La Trobe is proud to be leading it,” Professor Dodds said.
Chief Investigator, Dr Jim Radford from La Trobe’s Centre for Future Landscapes, said the project will develop farm-scale “Natural Capital Accounts” (NCA), enabling producers to quantify the benefits of sustainable practices and optimise farm management for both production and environmental outcomes.
“Researchers will work with 50 farms across New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania, from 2020 to 2021, assessing financial, production and environmental performance to provide verifiable information about the value of natural assets such as soil carbon, vegetation and biodiversity on those farms,” Dr Radford said.
“Customised farm-scale Natural Capital Accounts will enable producers to leverage their environmental performance for market advantage, and provide potential investors with information on farming entities’ sustainability and long-term profitability,” Dr Radford said.
Project member, Australian National University PhD researcher and NCA expert Sue Ogilvy, said the project will address a lack of empirical evidence and robust statistical analysis about relationships between natural capital and farm profitability, which is hindering wider uptake of sustainable agricultural practices.
“The lack of methods to generate standardised, verifiable information on the relationship between environmental performance and farm productivity hinders the ability of producers who do adopt sustainable practices to quantify their contribution to an improved environment and how much they benefit financially from these practices,” Ms Ogilvy said.
Sam Marwood, Operations Director for project partner Odonata, said the project will yield many benefits for farmers in both the short and long term.
“Farmers are the stewards of large tracts of our land, and this project will form the cornerstone for proving the value of nature for farming,” Mr Marwood said.
The project involves 10 consortium members from across the agricultural, government and non-government organisation sectors:
- La Trobe University
- Birchip Cropping Group
- Bush Heritage Australia
- Landcare Australia
- Sensand Technologies
- The Arthur Rylah Institute at the Victorian Department of Environment, Land Water and Planning
- Tiverton Agriculture Impact Fund
- Trust For Nature
- Vanguard Business Services