Labertouche Labertouche is a productive farming community, rich in naturalresources, with many second and third generation farmers incorporating dairy,beef, organic vegetables, fruit, berries and free range eggs. There are 46 farms, covering an area ofapproximately 6,250 ha, producing approximately US$ 6,000,000 (AUD $8,500,000)worth of product annually.
With the threat of urban spread(with some farms already broken up into 8 ha ‘hobby farm’ allotments) coupledwith the social and financial costs of environmentally unsustainable farmingpractices, the future of the individual farmer in this community is at risk.
What brought theissue to a head?
The Problem The areais the catchment for many creeks and waterways (Labertouche, Wattle andNine-mile Creeks; Tarago and Bunyip Rivers) that eventually flow into Western Port Bay.
A WorldWide Fund for Nature report rated WesternPort Bayas the third most degraded marine area in Australia. It quoted catchment-based pollution as themain factor in the loss of 80% of seagrasses that in turn impacts on fish,fisheries and tourism. A 1998 RoyalMelbourne Institute of Technology University (RMITU)/Environmental ProtectionAuthority (EPA) study of Labertouche Creek classed the streamside zone as‘moderate to poor’ in condition with water quality labeled as ‘degraded’. Intensive farming and the removal ofvegetation were found to have impacted on the health of the creek. Results from a follow up RMITU/EPA study in1999 suggested that inputs from the Wattle and Nine-mile Creeks weresignificantly impacting on the Labertouche Creek.
The overall community was concerned and looking for solutions. While some farmers were beginning to addressthese issues, most saw sustainable farming practices as an issue that was oflittle concern or benefit to them, or on the other hand, as an issue that wasso big as to be beyond their control or influence. What could they do? The issues were too broad, too complex andtoo entrenched for them to cope with alone.
Go Mark Foods Webelieved that partnerships involving individual farmers, the community,business and government were essential, and held the most promise, for concreteresults on the ground and best results for all concerned.
Go Mark Foods had originally partnered with the Victorian EPA and theAustralian Centre for Cleaner Production in their 1997/98 partnership programto successfully develop and trial an ISO 14000 Environmental Management Systemfor high rainfall beef farming.
“EPA has beenpleased to partner your organisation in the investigation and promotion ofecological sustainable development. Inparticular, EPA was pleased to provide a grant under the Cleaner ProductionPartnerships Program for the development of the “Ten Steps to EnvironmentalManagement for Beef Farming". Implementation of such Environmental Management Systems can assistfarmers to grow high quality beef whilst reducing their impact on theenvironment… EPA is happy to support organisations, like Go Mark, thatintegrate environmental sustainability with production processes in otherpractical ways, where the opportunity arises.”
~ Robert Joy, Executive Director of the EPA (VIC).
From this wedeveloped our “On-Farm Sustainability Assessment” system for beef, lamb, dairyand horticulture, based on the internationally recognised Natural Stepsustainability framework and ISO 14000.
We attended the public meeting in Labertouche where the Creekstudies were presented and observed the need for sustainable farming practicesin order to resolve the creek pollution problems and ensure the futureviability and prosperity of farmers in the area.
We developed a practical, action plan, consisting of 2stages, that could be taken to engage the local farming community in thisprocess. The plan was based on 3 years work developing farm sustainabilityassessment, benchmarking and certification systems.
Theplan was positioned to:
Ø Maximiseparticipation by individual farmers;
Ø Raise awareness ofsustainability issues on farm and within the catchment;
Ø Benchmark thesustainability of each participating farm;
Ø Provide guidance tofarmers on their highest priority next steps toward sustainable farmmanagement;
Ø Provide an overallpicture of the health of the Labertouche catchment using participating farms asan indicative sample; and
Ø Maximise on-groundresults through positioning & offering solutions as a community initiative.
To this end, Go Mark Foods sought apartnership with the EPA and Labertouche Landcare group to implement our plan,and to seek an EPA grant to fund it.
EPAapproved the plan and funding.
The Plan The partnership wished to provide thelocal farmers with tools to assess their farming operations, and in doing soprovide an overall catchment assessment score or benchmark to identify the keyissues on their farms and at the same time identify the main issues for thecatchment. This would highlight what thefarmers, community and catchment managers should invest their time and money infor the best outcomes.
Stage 1 All farmers within the Labertouche area were to havethe opportunity to participate, whether they bordered waterways or not. No onewould be excluded unless by their own choice. However, because this was aresearch exercise, the offer was conditional on gaining support from sufficientlocal farmers (25%) to make the catchment-wide assessment valuable.
Stage1 was positioned to maximise participation.
In consultation with the Labertouche Landcare Group, all farmers in thearea (46) were to written to and asked to complete and return “an expression ofinterest” form. Only 10 farmersresponded by mail, so we phoned the other 36 and arranged to meet with them onfarm. This gave them the opportunity to find out more about what the offerinvolved and the potential benefits to them. It also provided us with the opportunity to understand the concerns ofeach farmer and to begin to address their issues with sustainable change.
With 38 agreeing to participate from the 46 approached (82%) EPAapproved funding for stage 2.
Stage 2 Stage 2 involves an On-farm Sustainability Assessmentfor each farm. Our assessor spends a ½day with each farmer gathering information and inspecting his farm and afurther ½ day writing the report. Appointments have been made for each farm over a ten-week period thatbegan on March 8th 2000. Thisstage is still in progress with 8 of the 40 farms having been assessed.
Eachfarm is assessed against 75 indicators across our 10 Steps to SustainableFarming. We look at different aspects ofthe farm and provide an assessment report to each farmer.
Ø The farm's strengths;
Ø The farm's overallSustainability rating (where it is now);
Ø Ratings anddetailed comments on each of the 10 Steps;
Ø Recommendations forimprovement where appropriate; and
Ø Guidance on thehighest priority actions you can take to improve both economic andenvironmental sustainability.
Each farmassessment is confidential. Farmers may discuss issues with, and assist, eachother but that will be their choice. Atthe completion of the report, we visit with each farm to discuss opportunitiesand issues in more detail.
At the completionof the 40 farms, an overall catchment report with no reference to specificfarms will be made available to the EPA and the community to identify requiredcommunity initiatives.
A Community Initiative The EPA’s motivation for this projectis to facilitate community efforts to address environmental problems. It is aresearch project designed to evaluate priority actions for communities and theindividuals that make up that community. As Labertouche is mainly a farmingcommunity, EPA wants to provide access to assessment tools relevant to thisinterest group.
A project reference group has beenformed to obtain advice and feedback on approaches to be adopted or otheradvice as may assist with the implementation of recommendations in theSustainability Report. At this point itincludes representatives from Go Mark Foods, EPA, Labertouche Landcare Groupand Department of Natural Resources and Environment Farm$mart Program. Its focus is to assess current progress andto plan and develop stage 3 of project – community solutions to individual farmand Labertouche issues and problems. Wehave approached representatives of The Rural Finance Corporation and 2 majormilk companies to become part of this reference group.
1. Maximiseparticipation (through assurance of confidentiality of individual farmassessments; ensuring that each farmer fully under-stood the risk ofunsustainable farming practices and the security of sustainable farmingpractices; personal contact with each farmer and his spouse to deal with socialissues and concerns as they arise).
Positioned and delivered by Ian Robson of Go Mark Foodswith the assistance of Jann Enden of the Labertouche Landcare Group.
2. Maximise results (through assessingability of each farmer and his family to deal with sustainable change andpositioning assessments accordingly)
Positioned and delivered by Ian Robson and Andrew Jeeves ofGo Mark Foods.
3. Maximise communityinvolvement in the sustainable change process (throughpositioning solutions to meet both individual farmers and overall catchmentneeds).
Positionedand delivered by all partners.
Formulation ofObjectives and Strategies:
1. Go Mark Foods wasunknown in the area prior to this project. Taking the time to meet with them personally, genuinely listening totheir concerns and explaining our motivation and vision for the future of farmersand food producers was integral to their participation.
2. The most askedquestion, “Why us? Why Labertouche?” Itis a valid question. It could have beenany area in Australiathat is involved in food production. They are all facing similar issues as Labertouche. It was explained that no matter where westarted, this question would have been asked, and it was Labertouche farmersthat had the opportunity to say “yes” or “no”. Another key point that helped bring them through this question and onboard was that if this project was successful in Labertouche the model would bepicked up and taken to other such catchments.
3. The EPA is aregulatory body and as such was viewed with some suspicion as to their motivesin this initiative. Two points allayedthis suspicion. This was not ourexperience of the EPA and it certainly was not true of this project. At the end of day, with this project thequestion to ask was, “Could they trust Go Mark Foods, not the EPA?”
4. Financialsustainability is an on-going issue for most of the farmers, without spendingtime and resources on environmental sustainability. While this was true, each farmer visitedintrinsically knew that any farming practice that was depleting or denigratinghis farms natural resource base, or natural resources outside his farm, wasfinancially unsustainable and this project had the potential to address bothissues.
Problems faced Whilstthe project is still in progress, a number of key issues, common to mostfarmers, have been identified:
Ø Different attitudesto change.
Ø Different levels ofunderstanding of sustainability.
Ø Lack of strategicplanning directed at sustainability.
Ø Lack of active soilbiology (Increased applications of fertilisers were needed to maintain economicproduction levels. Applied fertilisers were largely unable to be absorbed by aninactive soil biology resulting in loss of nutrients to streams, degradedstreams and catchments, inefficient use of resources, waste of these resourcesand high costs to farmers).
Ø Lack of tree cover(low levels of biodiversity, pasture/crop protection and livestock shelter).
Ø Varied quality ofmanagement of dairy effluent wastes (some impacts on stream water quality).
Ø Discernment of theideal methods of presenting results to farm families to gain their trust,ownership and desire to improve outcomes for their farms and for the catchmentin which the live and farm.
Differingattitudes to change and different levels of understanding about sustainabilityamongst participating farmers are related to the cultural change process. Aspart of the assessment process we have developed ways to assess these issuesand position our response to participating farmers. This ensures that wepresent to them at a level they are capable of accommodating, and withinformation and methods that gains their trust and the maximum potential forreal outcomes.
The heart oftemperate agriculture is its soil.
Farms and catchments are degrading as soils degrade. It is vital to improve thebiological activity and capacity of soils in Labertouche so that nutrients canbe absorbed, used efficiently and be retained on-farm (not contribute tocatchment degradation). Initial discussion have begun to organise a series oflocal soil development trials in partnership with the Department of NaturalResources and Environment, Labertouche Landcare, key soil consultants and workingfarm models to address this issue.
Biodiversity is the“glue” that stabilises our landscape.
Overclearing of complex native ecosystems in favour of simple farming systemsis increasing landscape instability. It is vital that Labertouche farmersaddress biodiversity issues to help to stabilise their catchment. To this end,we are in discussion with Labertouche Landcare and the Greenfleettree-planting program to address obvious lack of tree cover in the catchment.
Lack of strategicplanning directed at sustainability.
Asfarmers work through this project and our Modules (see footnotes, page 8),skills in strategic sustainability planning will develop. This is the final andprobably the most important outcome that farmers will develop. We willintroduce the Department of Natural Resources and Environment’s Farm$martProgram. This is based on group sessionsthat are designed to assist farming families to plan a sustainable futurethrough addressing business develop-ment, personal planning and naturalresource management.
Varied quality of management of dairy effluent wastes.
This is one of the most contentious, expensive to remedy and often most pollutingproblems. Once the assessments are completed, a detailed and individualisedprogram of assistance will be formulated with the EPA to improve problemeffluent management farms.
Thepartnership approach used in this project is a trial methodology for allpartners. In the past, program delivery has mostly taken place with governmentauthority to government authority partnerships or government authority tocommunity group partnerships.
TheEPA, under the guidance of its Chairman Dr Brian Robertson, has beenintroducing programs based on the ‘carrot’ rather than the ‘stick’ approach toregulatory compliance. Also, there has been a definite shift from regulatingcompliance towards encouraging a focus on developing sustainability. Untilrecently, this process has mostly focused on urban manufacturing industries andcleaner production. This project is increasing the EPA’s capacity to influencefarm sustainability and improving catchment management.
Thisaspect is a fundamental intention of the project. Assessments must evaluate theopportunities and constraints of each farm (even adjoining farms can be verydifferent in their management approaches, opportunities for improvement andconstraints on change). The process was: assessment à analysis à benchmark à position response à respond à introduce common solutions andsolution packages à deliver packages à evaluate results.
The preparation ofa “State of the Catchment” report based on our overall assessments will assistthe EPA and various catchment bodies to identify the key issues to be tackled.The EPA’s intention is to use this as a means of engaging other players and topackage some solutions for the catchment. This report will be a launching padof future actions. We will communicate to all the stakeholders where we havecome from, what we have found and what we are suggesting should be done.
Most participatingfarms were insular. The environmental health problems that had developed overthe years were difficult to resolve and mostly put aside. Our initial offer toassist farmers before and outside of this partnership project was met with notone positive response.
However,whilst gaining their participation and talking to farmers about 70%instinctively knew that by depleting the natural resource base they were alsodepleting their farms and in the future, they would probably hit a brick wall.
Wemissed 8 farmers in our initial mail out and seven of these have since come onboard. Of the 52 farmers approached, 48 are now participating. The LabertoucheCommunity has begun to talk about the project together.
Thereis increasing community awareness of the issues and possible solutions. Duringthe project most farmers became increasingly keen for their assessments and fortheir results.
Sustainability: Farmingin Labertouche brings together a broad cross section of people from variedeconomic, social and cultural backgrounds. We found an individual and personal approach was essential to gain thetrust and meet the needs of these people. Participants in the project included:38 dairy farmers, 6 beef cattle farmers, 2 orchardists, 1 organic vegetablefarmer and 1 free-range chicken farmer. Participating farmers are from 23 to 72years of age.
Financial Farmviability ranges from some farmers (or their spouses) working off farm tosupplement income, to successful individual family farmers, to corporate farmswith share farmers working them.
Sustainability(for Labertouche farmers) in its simplest form was defined as, “Running a successful,profitable farm whilst maintaining and enhancing the farm’s natural resourcebase (and environmental impacts off-farm), and meeting all reasonable needs ofyou and your family”.
Oursystems are positioned to deliver this within a sound (short- and long-term)financial structure. Coupled with thecommunity and individual approach to problems and sustainable solutions in thisinstance, we are also positioned to cater for their varied economic, social andcultural backgrounds.
Social Familyparticipation runs from wives playing an equal role with husbands in the day today running of the farm, to being involved in decision making only, to littleor no direct involvement. In themajority of instances the children have no interest (and see no future) inbeing involved in the farm.
Where possible andappropriate, all assessments and follow-up work involved wives and husbands.
Cultural Farmers tend to beconservative lot. To get anypositive results at all, we have had to be very respectful and considerate offarmers’ attitudes and behaviour. Indeed, cultural change issues in assistingfarmers to move towards sustainability are a key part of our work. We considerthe positioning of every farmer contact and report in relation to culturalchange.
Environmental Environmentalsustainability is the keystone of our work. To this end, we have researchedsustainability models around the world to find the best frameworks to assistour clients in understanding, assessing, benchmarking and moving toward sustainability.So far, the best found and the one used is The Natural Step framework. Thisframework uses various tools and management approached to decision making andinvestment that guide and measure an organisation’s progress towards reduceddependence on non-renewable resources and changing production and consumptionpatterns and technology. For more information, see:www.ozemail.com.au/natstep).
Allour reports and modules are based on this framework as well as the ISO 14000series.
1. Maximise Participation Of the 46 letters we sent out, only 12 replied. We then decided to phone the 45 farmers. Itis interesting to note that the farmers that did not respond to our letterwould not have contacted us if we had not phoned them. The personal contact is important.
In future projectssuch as this we would not ask the farmer to respond. The best results would be produced by sendinga letter informing of the project as we did, and advising that we will becontacting them by phone to discuss their participation and on farm visits toprovide more information and next steps.
2. Not only information but also culturalchange.
Positioningour response to participating farmers was as important as the informationitself. It was essential to work out our response to gain each farmer’sconfidence and the best opportunity for him or her to begin the change processrequired to move them along the road towards sustainability.
3. Seek out the‘Leaders’ to inspire the ‘Followers’ and influence the ‘Entrenched’ to get thebest results.
Itis no use starting with farmers who are in an entrenched position (eitherbecause of debt, attitude, personal family pressures, or farm limitations).Those most passionate to change will inspire those who want guarantees beforethey’ll shift. The improvements of these farmers will influence the least ableor capable to begin.
4. Everything takes time. Change takes time, the process is important so that all‘stakeholders’ can be brought along.
5. Focus on the core. Don’t get distracted by issues outside ofyour core focus; there are always many problems to address.
Transferability: Asthis project is still operational, all partners are monitoring it withinterest.
Basedon its success to date, Go Mark Foods is already exploring opportunities towork with other organisations dedicated to catchment protection in an effort toextend the model to other regions.
Wehave met with and presented to the Goulburn-Broken Catchment ManagementAuthority. We are in discussions with:
Ø Ern Cattach; Executive Officer,Victorian Catchment Management Council (the body oversighting regionalCatchment Management Authorities) with the intention of using this projectmodel in other catchment regions;
Ø Peter Sutherland, ExecutiveDirector, Catchment and Water Program, the Department of Natural Resources andEnvironment also with the intention of using this project model in othercatchment regions;
Ø various regional farm marketingalliances; and
Ø regional Landcare groups.