Nuffield Australia 2018 Scholar
Growing pains: Securing agriculture’s future in peri-urban areas
The task of accommodating Australia’s rapidly growing population and associated food demand means future planning policies and land use systems must consider ways to reduce the impact of urban sprawl on the productivity of agricultural land in peri-urban areas.
That’s according to a report released by 2018 Nuffield Scholar and South Australian mixed farmer, James Stacey, who with support from Primary Producers South Australia, travelled to 11 countries investigating how different jurisdictions are managing land use with growing populations.
Operating a mixed dryland grain, lucerne and beef enterprise only an hour from Adelaide, Mr Stacey was motivated to undertake his research having experienced firsthand the pressures placed on productive agriculture land by urban development.
Travelling across the United States, Canada, China and New Zealand, he met with farmers and land use regulators to assess where planning systems and laws have successfully maintained a strong agricultural sector in peri-urban zones.
“There are cases where managing increases in population density has been successful without eroding productive land around expanding cities,” Mr Stacey said.
“Stringent planning regulations in Canada’s British Columbia provide a great example, demonstrating that conservation of productive agricultural land and accommodation of a growing population can occur simultaneously.
“Strong urban growth planning laws provide farmers with security of land tenure and the associated confidence to invest in their businesses over the long term.
“They also discourage land purchases by those seeking land use changes, and thus avoid having competing land use systems in concentrated areas.”
Mr Stacey also explored the Chinese land consolidation strategy which involves retaining 85% of productive agricultural land as farmland, while still encouraging development, though acknowledges the rural population shift to urban areas would be unrealistic in an Australian context.
“The “New Land Administration Law” was implemented to protect agricultural lands and better coordinate the planning and development of urban land,” Mr Stacey said.
“Implementing a similar policy in our democratic society would be challenging, however the concept of setting a target or baseline around retention of farmland could help guide planning development policies in Australia,” Mr Stacey said.
Ultimately, Mr Stacey’s report concludes that managing the impact of urban sprawl on productive agricultural land should be a greater focus for planning bodies.
“As our population grows, it’s vital that the impact of urban sprawl on agricultural businesses is better managed with enhanced planning systems,” Mr Stacey said.
“Better planning laws will not only offer land security and encourage producers to invest in their farming operations with confidence, but will also help us to better align the often-competing interests of local councils, community expectations and environmental policies.”