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Paying farmers to manage their land for the environment

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ABC Rural Report
Rural Report Canberra Region: December 4-5,2008
By Sarina Locke, Canberra

» http://www.abc.net.au/rural/regions/content/2007/s2436686.htm

Paying farmers to manage their land for the environment

How should landholders and farmers look after their environment? Is there enough incentive do you think?

On a day when the CSIRO is launching its study into environmental stewardship payments we hear from a farmer who's looked at good examples overseas.

Sam Archer is a Nuffield scholar and farmer in southern NSW.

"I set off 6 months ago to look at ecosystem services, I was particularly interested in private initiatives.

"In the Catskills mountains which is northwest of the city of New York.

"300 farmers there are responsible for the quality of the water consumed by the nine million residents in New York.

"Under the Clean Water Act, New York City was faced with the prospect of spending eight billion dollars on a water treatment plant, and a million dollars a day to run it. Alternatively they chose to pay the farmers, dairy farmers and intensive agriculture.

"They pay them $7 million a year to to modify their practices and deliver clean water into the catchment."

In the UK, Operation Bumble Bee was started by Syngenta, agri-chemical company.

"They came up with a pollen and nectar mix of about 5 legumes and wildflowers (to tackle declining bumble bee numbers)," says Mr Archer.

"They are encouraged to plant these on marginal areas of their land, wet, waterlogged, low lying, saline or acidic," he says.

"The farmers are getting a gross margin of $840 per hectare for putting these mixes in. In return they've got a thousand farmers to put aside one hectare each, that's sufficient to influence 25 per cent of the UK's arable land. It's so successful they're implementing it throughout Europe."

He says stewardship payments in Australia should be for farmers to set aside marginal land for environmental outcomes, for trees that might be accounted under carbon trading schemes, for biodiversity, like Biobanking in NSW, and managing riparian areas beside creeks.

He says it should be whole of landscape, based on outputs, like carbon saving and hectares of remnant vegetation protected. He believes the private sector should pay, not governments, and should be paid as an annuity.


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