Adopting best management practices (BMP) on-farm is key to Australian agriculture maintaining its strong social licence.
Farmers need support through research extension to implement practices safeguarding environmental and public health, promoting food safety, and building sustainable livelihoods for farmers and their rural communities.
That’s the conclusion Central Queensland farmer Renée Anderson drew in her Nuffield Scholarship report – Social Licence: a Social and Environmental Responsibility – supported by the Cotton Research and Development Corporation and Cotton Australia and released today by Nuffield Australia.
Renée visited 120 farms in 15 countries as part of her scholarship and attended the Food and Agriculture Organisation Committee for World Food Security in Rome.
During her travels worldwide, Renée found that the successful implementation of region-specific best management practices for various agricultural systems, such as grain, beef, cotton, or vegetable crops, relies heavily on the support and investment provided by long-term research and extension services.
Renée said that whether the approach is conventional, regenerative, or organic, farmers require adequate resources and support to adopt BMP effectively.
“I found that farmers who had been supported to adopt industry-led, evidence-based best management practices could clearly articulate their sustainability goals with long-term farm vision, regardless of their farming approach,” said Renee.
“It became apparent that sustainability in agriculture results from a combination of vital evidence-based practices, and that sustainable practices were not exclusive to any single farming system.”
These practices come about through the commitment of farmers, research institutions, government bodies, and communities.
“A collaborative and inclusive approach is established by actively involving industry, research institutions, and government entities in developing, implementing, and evaluating BMP.”
The research confirmed that these practices support farmers in maintaining their strong social licence – community acceptance and support of agricultural practices – by enabling farmers to continue to innovate and adopt through continual improvement.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals can guide the agriculture sector, said Renée.
“Aligning core industry sustainability goals against the SDGs will ensure we continue to work towards improving our sustainable farming systems that allow for food security and a future that is diverse and inclusive of everyone.”
One of the farms Renée visited, River Garden Farms in California, provides habitats for a range of various species while simultaneously producing crops such as walnuts and rice. The property provides breeding sites, shelter and food sources for native fish, migratory birds, snakes and bees – fostering biodiversity and protecting native species.
Renée Anderson (back left) a cotton grower from Central Queensland, checks out a strawberry farm in Nova Scotia Canada
Targeted conservation practices have had positive flow-on effects for the business, such as improving water efficiency and reducing the need for fertilisers.
“A research-driven approach empowered River Garden Farm employees to contribute to discussions and make decisions on sustainable land and water management,” said Renée.
Renée’s research suggests that “fostering leadership skills and encouraging knowledge transfer between experienced and young farmers” can “ensure the long-term viability of Australia’s agricultural businesses”.
The experience of travelling the world through the Nuffield Scholarship demonstrated to Renée that adopting best management practices ensures farmers make informed and evidence-based advances in sustainability.
Download Renee's report here: https://www.nuffieldscholar.org/reports/au/2019/social-licence-social-and-environmental-responsibility
Nuffield Australia CEO and 2013 Nuffield Scholar Jodie Redcliffe says the organisation is hard at work, with multiple Scholars currently travelling across Europe, Japan and more.
Registrations for the Nuffield Conference, where past Scholars and industry experts share agricultural insights, are open now. This year, the Nuffield Conference will be held in Perth, September 11-13. https://www.nuffield.com.au/conference-2023