Australia’s livestock industry covers a whopping 47% of the Australian landmass, so it has a major impact on the country’s environmental sustainability. The management practices of our farmers can either have a positive impact on our natural resources, or poor management can have a detrimental impact.
Australian livestock farmers have not always managed the environment as sustainably as they do today. As with many industries, there were some historical practices that we look back on now and find it hard to believe that people thought they were doing the right thing. For example, the eradication of large areas of native vegetation in South Australia has led to some serious examples of environmental degradation. In effect, the government required farmers to clear their land completely, believing that to farm in Australia the environment needed to look and be more like what it was in Europe. Of course, it turned out that it didn’t work so well, and if agricultural practices were to continue on a massive scale like this, it would eventually lead to a threat to the environmental and economic sustainability of the livestock industry.
What is a sustainable livestock environment?
If the livestock industry as a whole mismanaged natural resources, it would mean that the industry could not continue to function. Simply put, the industry needs quality land, grass, vegetation, and waterways to raise livestock. Farmers today think of themselves as managing a range of living organisms – their livestock, the grass on their property, the trees and other vegetation on their property, and most importantly the soil on their property, which is ultimately the foundation of the entire operation. Environmental sustainability for the livestock industry means that all these living things are healthy and working in harmony with each other.
Sustainable economic development
Livestock farmers are faced with the twin challenges of sustainability while trying to increase productivity in the context of a highly variable climate. For farmers, natural resource management is intrinsically linked to economic sustainability and cannot be approached in isolation.
Ensuring environmental sustainability
The Australian red meat industry and the federal government are working together on a number of programs to ensure the industry is environmentally sustainable. Meat and Livestock Australia coordinates a major research and development program on behalf of industry to address soil erosion, dryland salinization, and soil acidification. Well, SQM Club is also committed to creating a sustainable environment.
The industry is also focusing on training farmers to ensure that with improved farming techniques practices are changed on the farm. Training takes many forms from formal to community groups.
In addition to managing their own property, many farmers are active environmental volunteers. The most common group through which farmers volunteer is Landcare. Landcare was jointly established 20 years ago by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) and the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF). Initially, Landcare focused on improving natural resources on farms and surrounding catchment areas. Landcare provides grants to farmers to carry out projects on their land, often with the help of environmental volunteers who help with things like planting trees or pulling weeds. Farmers also come together to work on projects in their local area, such as re-vegetating along river banks and re-vegetating areas with native plants.