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Farm forestry policy and extension: What’s in it for Australia? What’s in it for farmers?1

Jim D. Donaldson

Landscape Conservation Section,
Natural Heritage Division, Environment Australia
GPO Box 787, Canberra, ACT, 2601


Most of Australia’s forest and agricultural land is privately owned or managed. Consequently, the management decisions of farmers have important implications for wood production, land and water degradation, and the maintenance of ecological values, which often have impacts that extend to the broader community. The Commonwealth Government has invested substantially in farm forestry and vegetation management over the last fifteen years. During this time, there has been much change in the policy landscape, in interests reflected in government policy, and in the range of instruments being explored to address natural resource management issues. Firstly, it reflects on the development of policy and program objectives as they relate to forestry extension at the national level. It highlights the changing context in which policy is being formulated and extension services delivered. The aim is to identify the key factors that drive government policy making, so that stakeholders can better understand their impact on forestry decision-making for industry, community and the environment.

In recent years, the concept of delivering environmental services as a commercial proposition has gained prominence. Often expressed through the language of ‘credits’ (eg carbon, salinity, biodiversity and water credits), this way of conceptualising environmental issues is likely to have a significant impact on ideas about what and how policy might be developed in the future. It may also help to better focus the policy dialogue among landholders, conservationists, industry and governments. Secondly, the paper explores the nature of the differences in expectations that governments and landholders might have about extension and what it should deliver. It notes that the interests of government and those of landholders do not necessarily always coincide. The paper provides some insights into the nature of this relationship with the aim of assisting all stakeholders to identify mutually beneficial arrangements for delivering agreed forestry outcomes.

“It is not necessary to travel far, or to know much about botany or dendrology, to understand the magic of trees. Poets, painters, writers have all paid them homage.” (Boyer, 1996)


Most of Australia’s forest and agricultural land is privately owned or managed. Australia’s State of the Forests Report has identified that approximately 70% of the nation’s forest resources2 are privately owned or managed (NFI, 1998). These forests, both native and planted, have many values and fulfil a multitude of functions and purposes. Consequently, the management decisions of farmers have important implications for wood production, land and water degradation, the conservation of biological diversity and the maintenance of ecological values, which often have impacts that extend to the broader society, environment and economy.

The Commonwealth Government has invested substantial amounts of money in farm forestry, native vegetation management and landcare over the last fifteen years. During this time, there has been much change in the policy landscape, in the range of interests reflected in government policy, and in the range of instruments being explored to address natural resource management issues. This paper provides an overview of these policies and their evolution, including the emerging concept of ecosystem services and its possible relevance to forestry and extension.

The title of this conference is Forestry extension: assisting forest owner, farmer and stakeholder decision-making. Its purpose is “to better define the role of private non-industrial forestry extension and to support and explore ways in which extension can contribute to improving landholder decision-making and stakeholder participation in these decisions” ( accessed 20 September 2001). The aim of this paper, then, is to identify the key factors that drive government policy making on private non-industrial forestry3, consider the nature of the relationship between policy and extension, and provide some insights that may assist all stakeholders to better understand the dynamics of decision-making and identify mutually beneficial arrangements for delivering improved forest management outcomes.

Overview of national policies affecting farm forestry in Australia

Under Australia's federal system of government, prime responsibility for land use, forestry and conservation matters rests with the eight State and Territory Governments. However, the Commonwealth Government has certain powers and interests, which can have significant implications for land use management practices. Amongst other things, it is responsible for coordinating a national approach to industry development and environmental issues including in the area of forest, land and water management. In practice, responsibility for policies affecting decisions on land use and the environment is shared between Commonwealth, State, Territory and local Governments.

Over the last two decades, there has been increasing concern about the condition of Australia’s natural resources and the ecological sustainability of our farming, forestry and land management systems. Commonwealth involvement in natural resource management policy has increased substantially since the early 1980s as recognition of the scale and complexity of the issues has grown. Current national policy drivers for farm forestry and vegetation management can be summed up in five words:

  • Salinity
  • Water
  • Carbon
  • Biodiversity
  • Production

Each of these drivers has its own particular policy lineage; its own history and rationale for being, its own objectives, programs, institutional structures, networks, ministers and bureaucracies. They have largely been concerned with rectifying perceived market failures and lack of production of public environmental goods. A characterisation of these drivers in the policy framework of ecosystem services is outlined at Figure 1, while the lineage or history of each strand of policy is shown at Figure 2. Salinity and water are shown together under the heading of landcare to highlight the policy approach adopted in relation to farmers in recent years.

Figure 1. Ecosystem service characterisation of policy drivers








Ecosystem services









Governments have a range of policy instruments available to them to promote natural resource management for the public good. These include traditional ‘command and control’ regulation, education and provision of information, and the provision of economic incentives such as through taxes, subsidies, grants and market-based instruments (OECD, 1999; Commonwealth of Australia, 2001). The following discussion refers mainly to Commonwealth Government programs, which can be viewed broadly as extension programs that have a focus on education and incentives.


Policy making for farm forestry at the national level in Australia really began in 1982 with the establishment of the National Tree Program in the Department of Environment. It had the objective of “conserving and establishing trees and other vegetation for community and private benefit throughout Australia” (DASETT, 1988). This followed the rise in community concern over rural tree decline and the promotion by the United Nations Association of Australia of a ‘Year of the Tree’ to draw attention to the problem (Oates et al, 1981; DASETT, 1988). Greening Australia was also formed as a non-government organisation in 1982 as a direct result of the ‘Year of the Tree’ initiative and became a key player in the delivery of the National Tree Program.

Figure 2: National farm forestry policies and programs4







Natural Heritage Trust II: Land, Vegetation, Water, Coasts



National Action Plan for Salinity

and Water Quality




Greenhouse Gas Abatement Prog


National Greenhouse Strategy



Bush for Greenhouse


Plantations for Aust: 2020 Vision

Safeguarding the Future

NHT National Landcare Program

Natural Heritage Trust Bushcare

NHT Farm Forestry




National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia’s Biological Diversity


WAPIS Farm Forestry Program




Wood and Paper Industry Strategy

Greenhouse 21C


National Landcare Program (incl One Billion Trees & Save the Bush Programs

Farm Forestry Program


Decade of Landcare Plan


National Forest Policy Statement


National Greenhouse Response Strategy

National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development


National Soil Conservation Program

One Billion Trees

& Save the Bush Programs

National Afforestation Program


Our Country, Our Future: Statement on the Environment

National Soil Conservation Strategy




National Afforestation Prog




National Forest Strategy



National Conservation Strategy for Australia



National Soil Conservation Prog




National Tree Program


The National Tree Program was later expanded and replaced by the One Billion Trees and Save the Bush programs in 1989 as key elements of the Prime Minister’s landmark statement on the environment Our Country, Our Future (Prime Minister of Australia, 1989). They had a clearer focus on biodiversity conservation and were later supplemented by initiatives like the Corridors of Green program and the Wet Tropics Tree Planting Scheme in North Queensland. These were all then incorporated in the Bushcare program with advent of the National Heritage Trust in 1997.

Over this time, funding for program delivery increased from about $3 million over the first five years to over $350 million over the five year period 1997 to 2002. The National Tree Program provided initial support for Greening Australia and state based committees, the employment of state-based coordinators, national coordination and information and community based demonstration projects. As more funding became available, investment in extension, advisory and facilitation services, and on-ground activities like tree planting and fencing of remnant native vegetation increased markedly.

Landcare: land, water and salinity

The impact of the National Tree Program was quickly superseded in profile by the emergence of the National Soil Conservation Program and then landcare. As Cary and Webb (2000) have observed: “As a consequence of the growth and success of community landcare, the community-based participatory model approach to rural resource management has become the dominant policy paradigm in Australia.”

The National Soil Conservation Program commenced in 1983, in the Commonwealth Government’s agricultural agency, the then Department of Primary Industries. It was established in recognition of the national dimensions of the problem of soil and land degradation caused by past land uses and management practices, especially agriculture. While initial funding was directed only to state agencies to supplement their efforts, the focus of the program shifted fairly quickly to provide support for community landcare projects. The program soon formed the cornerstone of the Commonwealth’s ‘Decade of Landcare’ plan (Prime Minister of Australia, 1989; SCARM, 1995; Cary and Webb, 2000) and was the progenitor of the National Landcare Program, which received an in-principle ten year commitment for substantially increased levels of funding from the Commonwealth. The National Landcare Program, which also incorporated elements of the former Federal Water Resources Assistance Program, was established in 1992 with a much broader focus on natural resource management, including whole farm or property management planning.

The National Landcare Program embraced catchment management as a way of coordinating government and community activities across whole catchments. Of greater significance, however, was its encouragement of community involvement in rural land degradation issues and its emphasis on a self-help approach (SCARM, 1995). In essence, the concept of landcare provided a way of integrating several strands of natural resource management policy within a social context of community development.

The public face of the program was expanded by the establishment of the One Stop Shop process to incorporate the community grants component of the One Billion Trees and Save the Bush programs. Despite this, the programs continued to be administered separately by the Department of Environment. In the context of the aims of the National Landcare Program, the management of vegetation and tree planting were mainly seen as part of a suite of options available to farmers to conserve and maintain the productivity of land and water, not as commercial or nature conservation ends in their own right.

Most recently, landcare objectives are again to the fore under the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality (access via under National Action Plan). The plan provides a strategy to guide and influence the decision making and actions of governments, landholders, communities and industry for managing natural resources in rural and regional Australia for the next 10 to 15 years. Its goal is to motivate and enable regional communities to use coordinated and targeted action “to address salinity, particularly dryland salinity, and deteriorating water quality in key catchments and regions across Australia.”

Key elements of the plan include:

  • setting targets and standards for natural resource management;
  • developing and accrediting integrated catchment/regional management plans developed by the community;
  • capacity building for communities and landholders to assist them develop and implement integrated catchment/region plans, including provision of technical and scientific support; and
  • an improved governance framework to secure the Commonwealth-State/Territory investments and community action in the long term, including property rights, pricing, and regulatory reforms for water and land use.

In large measure, these elements represent an attempt to move beyond the traditional landcare approach and adopt a wider range of policy instruments and set specific on-ground outcomes and targets for water quality, salinity and other natural resource management so as to guarantee a return on the Commonwealth’s investment. In relation to extension, or capacity building in communities, the aim is to reorient the facilitator and coordinator support network developed through the National Landcare Program and the Natural Heritage Trust, to support integrated catchment/regional management planning and its implementation and provide better data and information on natural resources. The development of management and technical skills of land managers and other stakeholders is seen in the context of ensuring wider adoption of sustainable land and water use.

Plantation farm forestry and sustainable private native forest management5

Forestry policy in Australia has always been principally concerned with wood supply. Until the 1980s, forest policy in Australia largely focused on reserving and managing native forests for the supply of either hardwoods or water. Government policy also focused on investing (mainly) public funds in the supply of plantation softwoods, which were naturally scarce, through state forest agencies, to encourage self-sufficiency.

Since the late 1980s, the development of plantation farm forestry policies by the Commonwealth has occurred mainly in the context of the community debate over native forest and woodchip exports, though there has always been recognition of the broader public environmental, greenhouse and regional employment and development benefits of plantations. Promotion of plantations recognised the negative regional social and economic impacts of decisions taken by governments to reduce access to public native forests for wood supply and the need to augment traditional sources of supply. It was seen as part of the ecological – social trade-off required in a transition to ecologically sustainable forest development (Commonwealth of Australia, 1992a and 1995b; Rolley, 2001).

In 1987, the National Afforestation Program was established by the Commonwealth to stimulate an expansion of the commercial hardwood timber resource and to assist in land rehabilitation and degradation control through afforestation. Funds, totalling nearly $15 million over three years, were targeted mainly to the large state and private industrial growers, though the program was also the first production forestry initiative that directly sought to engage private landholders. However, the program was not really designed to address the needs of non-industrial forest managers and lacked a supportive policy framework through which to address underlying social, economic and institutional impediments to plantation development (Donaldson, 1998).

In 1992, the Farm Forestry Program emerged as a Commonwealth initiative under the National Forest Policy Statement and was the first to have an explicit focus on working with farmers (Commonwealth of Australia, 1992a). The program subsequently received substantially increased funding through the Wood and Paper Industry Strategy and the Natural Heritage Trust, including investment from the Bushcare program. The goal was to expand, enhance and diversify the plantation resource base, recognising that while Australia has ample cleared land suitable for commercial tree growing, most of this is privately owned or managed, including by farmers who have traditionally not been involved in the forest industries (Commonwealth of Australia, 1995b, c).

The approach adopted under the Farm Forestry Program has been one of developing a regionally integrated approach to farm forestry, working in partnership with state and local government, regional organisations, industry, farmers, researchers, and community and landcare groups (Commonwealth of Australia, 1995b; Donaldson, 1998; Black et al, 2000). In many ways, the program builds on the foundation provided by community landcare movement and has had the aim of facilitating the exchange of ideas, knowledge and information leading to mutual changes in attitudes, practices and behaviour of all stakeholders. Whilst it involves the ‘transfer of technology’ through practical demonstrations and provision of technical information, the program has been as much about fostering ideas, discussion and debate amongst farmers, governments, industry and researchers about the paths forward at the regional, state and national levels (Donaldson and Gorrie, 1996; Donaldson, 1998).

Since 1995, projects have been funded under three main components: regional plantation committees; regional farm forestry projects; and national strategic projects. To a large extent, the program has provided an opportunity for regional stakeholders to customise extension and planning activities to meet their own needs and circumstances. It has also tried to link these regional projects with a range of strategic national support projects designed to enhance research and development, communication, information dissemination and networking. Examples include the Master TreeGrower Program (Reid and Stephens, 2000), the National Farm Forestry Roundtable and Facilitator, CSIRO’s seed and information support project, and development of a National Farm Forestry Information Service.

In relation to extension, as Black et al (2000) have noted, the Commonwealth does not engage directly in extension and advisory activities but, rather, works to support various state agencies, Greening Australia, Australian Forest Growers and regional groups in these roles. Black et al (2000) note that extension strategies under the program have been developed by applying components from a range of models, from the technology transfer approaches of demonstration sites and information dissemination through to the use of group participatory principles and formation of strong communicative networks.

Since 1997, under the Natural Heritage Trust, the regional and local component of the Farm Forestry Program has been delivered through the One Stop Shop. But like the biodiversity related programs, it has really been administered quite separately.

In 1997, in an explicit partnership between industry and government, the Plantations for Australia: the 2020 Vision strategy was formulated. It aims to develop plantation growing and processing industries which are commercially oriented, internationally competitive and sustainable and set a target of trebling the plantation estate by 2020 (Plantation 2020 Vision Implementation Committee, 1997). The 2020 Vision lists boosting the availability of suitable land for plantations as a strategic imperative and identifies the need to improve the tree growing skills of farmers through the Farm Forestry Program. However, in relation to farmers, it has been criticised as being too narrow in its focus on an industrial model of plantation forestry and not taking sufficient account of the different range of needs and motivations of farmers (Reid, 2000; Cummine, 1999).

The National Forest Policy Statement also contained specific commitments to improve the management of private native forests for nature conservation, catchment protection and wood production or other economic pursuits (Commonwealth of Australia, 1992a). While nature conservation aspects have been addressed through the Save the Bush and Bushcare programs, with the possible exception of Tasmania, few other private native forest initiatives had been implemented until the scope of the Farm Forestry Program was expanded Natural Heritage Trust in 1997.

Over the last decade, while there has been greater recognition of the wider range of policy interests for plantation farm forestry, to date, the main policy objective has always been wood supply. However, with more attention being given to the potential role of plantation farm forestry as a cost-effective method of achieving revegetation targets for salinity and water quality outcomes, especially in lower rainfall regions, the balance in policy emphasis appears to be shifting. Two possible future emphases for farm forestry policy could be:

  • providing a commercial production (or economic) driver for environmental revegetation (principally salinity control); and
  • providing ecosystem services: salinity, water, biodiversity, and greenhouse.


The potential role of carbon sinks as part of Australia’s response to the greenhouse effect was first formally recognised in the Prime Minister’s 1989 statement on the environment (Prime Minister of Australia, 1989). It then became incorporated in the National Greenhouse Response Strategy of 1992, with funding to extend the One Billion Trees program, provide interim support for the Farm Forestry Program, and undertake a ‘land cover change project’ provided in the Greenhouse 21C policy statement of 1995.

So there has always been recognition of a strong synergy between achieving greenhouse outcomes and forestry actions taken for natural resource management and production purposes. However, it was not until the Prime Minister’s statement of November 1997 Safeguarding the Future: Australia’s Response to Climate Change, prior to negotiation of the Kyoto Protocol, that funding was made available for specific greenhouse sink and carbon accounting programs. These initiatives were the Bush for Greenhouse program, which aims to enhance Australia’s sinks by encouraging greater private sector investment in revegetation for environmental purposes, and the National Carbon Accounting System, which seeks to account for land based greenhouse gas emissions reduction and sink enhancement programs.

More significantly, with the negotiation of the Kyoto Protocol, a cap has been placed on Australia’s total allowable greenhouse gas emissions, the potential contribution of sinks as an abatement measure has been recognised, and carbon trading has been endorsed in-principle as a means for helping to achieve greenhouse gas targets at lowest cost. There is now enormous interest in the prospect of producing carbon credits as an ecosystem service. While many issues still need to be resolved, the decisions taken at Kyoto have created the necessary pre-conditions to put an economic value on carbon sequestered in forests and ‘internalise an environmental externality’ (Donaldson, 1999). In turn, this has stimulated much policy research and thinking on how to use similar market-based instruments to achieve salinity, water and native biodiversity conservation outcomes.

In relation to extension, Bush for Greenhouse is being designed to build the capacity of the community, industry and government to deal with carbon sequestration issues, especially in relation to improving their ability to define, measure and monitor carbon sequestration at the project level but also to deal with related administrative and legal issues. To date, its main mode of operation has been to produce information and develop accounting tools and procedures to assist potential clients, which places it within the ‘technology transfer’ paradigm of extension.

Ecologically sustainable development: towards policy integration?

It is clear that policies affecting farm forestry have evolved from four related but different perspectives and cultures: forestry, agriculture (landcare), conservation and greenhouse and bring with them their own unique legacies and objectives. At the same time, there has long been recognition within the community and government of the need to better “integrate conservation and development and emphasise their interdependence and common ground” (Commonwealth of Australia, 1984; WCED, 1987).

In response, governments have sought to extend and apply the principles of ecologically sustainable development to all areas of economic and environmental decision-making and have developed common overarching policy frameworks, such as the Prime Minister’s 1989 statement on the environment Our Country, Our Future and the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development (Prime Minister of Australia, 1989; Commonwealth of Australia 1990, 1992b). And initiatives like the $1.25 billion Natural Heritage Trust have been introduced with the aim of taking an integrated and long term approach to the conservation and sustainable management of Australia’s land, vegetation, water and biodiversity. However, despite this, and the advent of streamlined grant application processes like the One Stop Shop, most policies and programs have maintained their own separate identities and been administered largely in isolation from each other, although innovations like ‘devolved grants’ have started to change this situation in some areas.

To date, it has been apparent that translating the desire for more integrated approaches to program delivery has proved problematical for a range of conceptual, policy, political and practical administrative reasons. For example, there has been discussion for some time now about the potential of plantation farm forestry to contribute to achieving natural resource management objectives (Abel et al, 1997; Donaldson, 1998; Reid, 1996 and 2000). But it has not been clear from a program design and delivery perspective how such integration might occur, trade-offs made, public and private costs shared, and what overall policy framework it would fit into.

Now, under the emerging concept of ecosystem services and with increasing interest in the use of market-based mechanisms, a common conceptual policy framework appears to be emerging in which consideration and integration of the various policy objectives can be attempted. This may represent a significant re-conceptualisation of policy thinking in natural resource management.

Ecosystem services

The term ‘ecosystem services’ has been coined “to describe the processes and conditions by which natural ecosystems sustain and fulfil human life,” largely in an unrecognised and unpriced way ( A good example is the supply of clean water. As the OECD (1999) notes, the fundamental problem in dealing with many natural resource issues like biodiversity conservation is that many of the benefits accrue to the public as a whole, and because of information, market and government failures, they are often utilised at levels that are not sustainable.

To overcome this problem, it is often recommended that incentive measures be developed to internalise the full costs of externalities caused by production activities, and that the necessary information, support and incentives be provided to foster more sustainable use of natural resources. From the point of view of economic theory, all values of natural resources would ideally be translatable into monetary terms” (OECD, 1999).

The CSIRO states that “ecological sustainability requires that decisions made on the use of natural resources be based on the full range of their functional and economic values,” but, that apart from a few isolated examples, we have virtually no appreciation of the nature or the value of the services that Australia’s ecosystems provide on which to base such analyses ( The work on ecosystem services represents an attempt to commodify natural processes and provide a basis for internalising their delivery into markets. Consequently, much work is now underway to identify and (economically) value ecosystem services provided by natural systems in production landscapes and catchments in order to provide a conceptual framework to support natural resource management decision-making and policy.

Often expressed through the language of ‘credits’ (eg carbon, salinity, biodiversity and water credits), this way of conceptualising environmental issues is likely to have a significant impact on ideas about what and how policy might be developed in the future. It may also help to better focus the policy dialogue among landholders, conservationists, industry and governments by more clearly identifying priorities, opportunities for achieving complementary or multiple public good outcomes, and the trade-offs involved.

Related to the idea of ecosystem services is the rising interest in the use of market-based instruments to achieve pubic good outcomes. At its broadest, market-based instruments can be construed to refer to any mechanism that utilise market forces in their delivery. Examples range from the adoption of accreditation and environmental management systems, revolving funds, tender or auction systems, development offset arrangements through to the introduction of ‘cap and trade’ systems, as is envisaged with carbon trading. Of these, it is the auction and ‘cap and trade’ mechanisms that are of most interest as they directly seek to internalise environmental externalities.

Even if market-based instruments are not adopted in the way many envisage, the work being done on ecosystem services and the development of credit systems will improve our ability to identify natural resource management priorities and establish more objective, transparent targets for directing public funds. Work proposed under the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality to set standards and targets is important in this regard and may help to set boundaries for future markets by defining the services being sought.

From an extension perspective, regardless of what program delivery mechanisms are adopted, there will be a need to assist landholders and others to:

  • acquire the knowledge and skills to understand and analyse the issues involved;
  • develop capacities to define, quantify and account for the ecosystem service;
  • deal with the range of practical taxation, legal and contractual issues involved;
  • develop innovative approaches which establish efficient administrative infrastructure and minimise transaction and compliance costs; and
  • keep abreast of a rapidly changing policy environment and related market and technical developments.

Basically, to claim a credit will require in the end an ability to credibly demonstrate the extent of the benefit being provided and its security.

Regardless of the theory behind ecosystem services and market-based approaches, an underlying issue is that someone must pay for these goods and services if they are to become functional in the real product market economy. And that can be either from government, on behalf of the entire public of a jurisdiction, or some more targeted section(s) of the community under a form of the user or polluter pays principle. In the first instance, the main buyer of ecosystem services is likely to continue to be governments in partnership with landholders and possible third parties.

Extension: what’s in it for Australia and for farmers?

An important theme of the conference is to foster an understanding of the role and purpose of extension, with an emphasis on its role in facilitating participation and supporting landholder decision-making. Against the issues discussed above, this section explores the nature of the differences in expectations that governments and landholders might have about extension and what it should deliver. It aims to provide some insights into the nature of this relationship and assist all stakeholders, including government, to identify mutually beneficial arrangements for delivering agreed forestry outcomes.

Government policies and extension programs in natural resource management have largely been concerned with rectifying perceived market failures and lack of production of public environmental goods. Landcare brought to the fore the idea of a participatory, self-learning and community led approach as a critical element of natural resource management policy. In this approach, extension is seen as a ‘helping profession’ to assist the client to achieve the client’s goals and is contrasted to the ‘technology transfer’ or ‘diffusion and adoption’ model (Barr and Cary, 2000).

In terms of the notion of extension as being to ‘help farmers make their own decisions,’ the national Property Management Planning campaign, which grew out of the National Landcare Program, was launched in August 1992. Its aim was to encourage producers to develop their farm business and management skills and enter a culture of continuous learning. It was defined as “an ongoing process for the total management of a farm business which assists producers to improve their profitability and achieve more sustainable natural resource use” (Commonwealth of Australia, 1995a). While encouraging a community-based participatory model, in effect, assistance to farmers was still provided within the context of promoting the ecological and economic sustainability of agriculture in rural Australia. Property Management Planning can be seen in some ways as an attempt to bridge the two forms of extension.

Barr and Cary (2000) report that the view of extension as a helping profession “… eventually became enmeshed in policy debates over public and private benefit from government funded extension and public and private goods.” The result was a shift in focus from individual to group extension and on environmental (public) benefits rather than production (typically private) benefits.

Landcare has been characterised as a useful tool to promote changes advantageous to the farm system but with limitations as a tool to achieve significant outcomes in biodiversity conservation and controlling off site impacts (Barr and Cary, 2000). Cary and Webb (2000) noted that “while community landcare and the wider landcare movement have raised awareness of resource management issues among the rural community, adoption of more sustainable farming practices has been slow. Motivation, financial incentives, financial and skill capacity and appropriate technology are necessary before behavioural change can be expected.”

A fundamental issue is whether farmers actually have the capacity to ‘invest’ in the environment when economic returns to farming are often marginal (Barr, 1999; Boully, 1999). Farmers need to strike a balance between the need to ensure profitability, so as to remain economically viable over the short-term, and the need to address biophysical problems to ensure sustainability over the longer term (Polkinghorne, 1999).

Cary and Webb (2000) sum up the policy dilemma fairly well:

  • “the problems of externalities and the inability of individuals to capture sufficient private benefits or to agree as a group on contributing to costs and sharing benefits are well-established characteristics of open access common property resource degradation;” and
  • “in situations involving common property resources and the public good the conflict between free market agricultural policies and the expectation that farmers will do public good and public benefit work for little or negative financial return is problematic.”

Likewise, the OECD (1999) suggests that the greatest policy challenge in the implementation of incentive measures for natural resource management is work out how to take account of the private as well as to the public costs and benefits.

In their review of factors influencing the adoption of sustainable resource management practices, Barr and Cary (2000) concluded: “changed natural resource management practices are most likely to be achieved by promoting changes that provide private benefits to the landholder.” This observation supports the need for extension programs to adopt approaches which respect the fact that farmers have a diversity of resources, motivations and objectives for managing their forests and land rather than seek to impose any particular model of forestry (Byron and Boutland, 1987; Cummine, 1999; Donaldson, 1998; Reid, 2000). But it does not resolve the issue of how to increase the production of public environmental goods.

One of the purposes of community extension programs is to generate an awareness of market failures and thereby generate a favourable climate for the use of other policy instruments, which more directly, can influence behavioural change. There can be little doubt that the landcare movement and government programs have been successful in this regard and, as discussed above in relation to ecosystem services, the time may be right to introduce a mix of new regulatory and incentives approaches to policy.

From a policy perspective, any discussion of extension and its role needs to occur within the context that particular policy objectives need to be achieved, and that, in its most narrow form (of assisting farmers), it is just one instrument amongst several to be used. On reflecting on the future of community landcare, Cary and Webb (2000) contend that continued government financial support depends on maintaining general community (rather than exclusively rural community) support, which depends on urban acceptance of the ideals espoused in the landcare movement. Hence, government funded programs need to be seen to meet general community perceptions of what are desirable practices to enhance resource sustainability, rather than protect the status quo.

The issue of potential conflict between farmer and government goals has been discussed in some depth by Barr and Cary (2000). They note that family, personal and financial security are generally the highest priority goals of Australian farmers, certainly in comparison to resource condition issues. Farmers often face a conflict of interest in deciding whether to adopt more sustainable land management practices, as these often lead to increased management complexity, an increase in financial risk and have significant off-site benefits which are unable to be captured by the farmer.

It is apparent that the interests of government and those of landholders do not necessarily always coincide, and that in relation to extension, government programs need to adopt a mixture of the ‘technology transfer’ and ‘helping profession’ approaches as part of a broader suite of policy regulation and incentives. In a review of extension and advisory strategies for production farm forestry, Black et al (2000) suggest that a key objective of extension strategies should be the development of a culture of continuous learning about farm forestry so as to facilitate informed decision-making and successful adoption of farm forestry by landholders. They also advocate the need for extension activities to incorporate a range of approaches, from information access and technology transfer through to provision of one-to-one advice, group facilitation and empowerment, to more structured education and training. While this may be true, one of the challenges for governments will be to design approaches to extension that effectively complement and are integrated with other policy delivery mechanisms.


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1 The views, opinions and interpretations presented in this paper are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect nor should be taken to represent the official views of Environment Australia or the Commonwealth Government.

2 Forests as defined by the National Forest Inventory include areas of trees often described as woodland.

3 The term ‘farm forestry’ is used in this paper to refer to private non-industrial forestry, and covers private forestry activity on farm lands for all its uses and values.

4 Shaded areas represent national policy statements or strategies. Unshaded areas represent funding programs.

5 The term ‘plantation farm forestry’ is used in this context to refer to plantings established mainly for commercial production purposes.

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