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Environmental Stewardship – Workshop

Facilitator: Roger Standen (Rendell McGuckian)

As a means of introducing the subject, the following question was posed and the MDBC Watermark project Environmental Stewardship Dairy Trial was used as an example to get the discussion going.

Is environmental stewardship a way of demonstrating that what is done on farms is achieving, or working toward sustainability, that encompasses a continuous improvement process and a set of standards that, if all reached, will achieve catchment and other environmental targets?

Some of the issues for discussion could be (these didn’t all get attention during the workshop as those present explored what was of interest to them):

1 How much complexity in terms of areas covered and process is needed to get the bulk of the benefits in terms of environmental outcomes?

Where is the divide between the “must haves” and the “like to haves”? i.e. where is the point of diminishing returns?

2 Setting performance standards –getting agreement within an industry and / or catchment

We are all familiar with best practice and describe it in terms of being achievable, recommended and done by some people. But does this lead to achievement of catchment targets? It may be best practice for that system but what if the system is not sustainable?

3 What level of process do markets / resource managers need to be confident the outcomes will be delivered?

There may need to be a level of audit (independence and transparency of process) to give confidence to markets or resource managers that actions are being taken to meet catchment targets that are beyond what is useful to a farmer to achieve those levels.

4 How does industry curtail the rush for different ‘ems’ (Environmental Management Systems)?

There is a proliferation of ems projects rising from all industries and areas that could lead to disillusionment among farmers if they are not seen to be co-ordinated (people do not want to have different processes for different parts of the business). National frameworks have been developed. How are they going in sorting out this issue?

Environmental Stewardship

Some of the points arising from the discussion include: –

  • Where is the line between public and private? It was expected by most that the farmer would stop where the private benefit stops. With the standards comes the need to ensure payment/fund public benefit changes made by farmers
  • Need to ensure that the practices that are part of the standards actually do contribute or meet the environmental targets
  • Risk that the system becomes ‘command driven’ farming and we get away from defining the outcomes and allowing the farmer to determine the on farm practices
  • Who drives the need for demonstration of good stewardship? Not many market signals but are messages from resource managers that to retain access to resources there needs to be this demonstration. So what needs to be demonstrated? This is where a project like the MDBC stewardship project is seeking to identify how to relate the farm actions with catchment targets and sustainability but this is a difficult task given the level of knowledge across the country.
  • Issue of balance between public and private good – ‘ems’ is a voluntary mechanism that has an element that it can be used to demonstrate performance. Ems needs to be part of a package of mechanisms to achieve environmental outcomes – who is going to pay and how – eg tenders, incentives, tax rebates
  • Ems can also be useful as a trace-back mechanism particularly when products are moved interstate or between regions
  • Social – what is the role of the various levels of government, what input can people make beyond their vote, concept of land ownership and management, issues of law, need to have a range of players as part of the decision making not just those groups that are directly involved, we can’t expect to see the philosophical changes quickly it will take a generation
  • Expectations in regard to ‘Duty of Care’ are changing (generally increased) and will continue to change
  • What role does the individual attitudes have? Age of farmers isn’t necessarily a determiner of interest /drive to be environmentally friendly.
  • Farmers are no different from the general population – they may know and agree about practices that are compatible with environmental stewardship but doesn’t necessarily lead to change in practices. A lot of related work in the health area confirms this.
  • Will the segment that becomes involved be those that belong to Landcare ie altruistic group?
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