A revolution in farming is needed to build a sustainable agriculture that suits Australia’s variable climate, sluggish rivers and ancient soils,says former CSIRO Land and Water chief Dr John Williams, recently awarded the 2005 William Farrer memorial medal for his outstanding contribution to scientific research. He says bigger farms are not the answer and will only lock farmers into a treadmill of bigger borrowings and diminishing profit margins.
Climate change was also demanding a more flexible farming system that did not lock farmers into high volume production of a single commodity. “We’ve got to build a mosaic of farming enterprises into the landscape so farmers are not stuck with a monoculture and a tough season that sends them broke,” Dr Williams said.
“Farmers are caught with declining terms of trade and need to explore alternatives where they are not producing millions of tonnes of something – the trick is to raise farm profitability by producing smaller volumes that are worth more.
“We’ve got to look at mixing things – like commercial tree production, bush foods and forestry, companion planting, new cereal crops that are better suited to the soil, and native vegetation to bring back the farm biodiversity.”