The right to farm

Macedon Ranges agribusiness operators are fighting against urban expansion and seek to secure the industry as the Victorian Government moves to protect Melbourne’s outer green wedges and peri-urban areas.
Strategic agricultural land identified in the Macedon Ranges forms part of the state government initiative, which aims to permanently tighten controls to improve land use and assist decision making.
Macedon Ranges Agribusiness Forum chair Noel Henderson said agribusiness operators were advocating for the right to farm to secure the industry and maintain viability into the future.
“At the moment, agricultural activities are competing with the need for housing and there is a host of planning overlays and restrictions that could potentially impact the right to farm,” he said.
“The right to farm needs to be enshrined in the study. Farmers are looking to the future and at how to improve. We need to encourage them to expand and adopt new technology.”
Mr Henderson, a wool producer at Avington Farm, acknowledged some progress had been made “but a great deal more is needed”.
The forum highlighted several areas for improvement including investment in goods transportation and infrastructure, water access, desire for farm-gate sales, need for reliable telecommunications and support to develop business and management plans.
Mr Henderson said Macedon Ranges agribusiness operators had a competitive advantage in their proximity to Melbourne and should maximise opportunities.
“One of our advantages is being close to Melbourne. It reduces food miles, it’s easy to access and, from an export point of view, it’s close to the airport,” Mr Henderson said.
“Farm-gate sales are another issue – particularly for the future of agricultural activities. We’re only an hour from Melbourne and the Macedon Ranges attracts a lot of tourism, yet farmers are restricted as to how they can participate in this.”
The Macedon Ranges visitor economy contributes $456 million in output and supports 2355 jobs. Visitation projections show the shire has the potential to attract an additional one million visitors by 2025.
Changes made to the planning scheme have the potential to impact the ability to create tourism-based opportunities, as noted in Macedon Ranges Shire Council’s submission to the state government process.
“Macedon Ranges is not Melbourne and the need to protect the unique characteristics against urban sprawl is a constant challenge,” noted council’s strategic planning coordinator Leanne Khan.
“Succession planning and attracting people to farming is also a challenge, especially given the decline in terms of trade.
“Farming areas make a valuable contribution to the shire’s economy and include broad-acre cropping and grazing as well as specialist activities such as viticulture, apiculture, timber plantations and the equine industry. Traditional farming activities are declining in favour of more intensive agriculture, such as vineyards and other horticultural pursuits.”
Agriforum member and Sidonia Beef Naturally farmer Sam White said there were other initiatives that would assist and encourage farming, but incentives for good land practice and land regeneration, and re-assessment of the land rating system should be included.
“There is a lot of difference between someone who makes their sole living off the land through farming and someone who owns land and derives most of their income by other means,” he said.
Cutting red tape for farmers was another area to be addressed.
“There are times when activities need to progress in a timely manner to help the business and you can’t go ahead with them if you are held up with red tape,” he said.
“Generally a farmer’s intent is good and they keep the the environment in mind as it is vital to their survival.”
Macedon Ranges Agribusiness Forum thoughts have helped shape council’s submission to the state government’s study into protecting Melbourne’s strategic agricultural land.

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