Hi there,
             With the news that David Kemp is the new Environment Minister,
we look forward to seeing which direction he will take many issues that need
some careful thinking and action.
This edition we feature excerpts from an address by Dan McLuskey (Mackay DPI)
on sustainability that raises some important points that are relevant to our
population discussions.
(1) NSW Irrigators look to secure future  
(2) Icebergs as a water resource
(3) End to right to farm disputes in Vic?
(4) WA Liberals looking at property rights
(5) Bill Soko comments on Population Limits
(6) A reply from Leon Ashby
(7) GM cotton seed to test new laws
(8) Dung beetles to clean-up waterways
(9) Land clearing data
(10) Landholders should stop treeclearing - Desiree Mahony
(11) Kalahari Farmer to speak in NT
(12) Adelaide-based CRC for Plant Based Management of Dryland Salinity begins
(13) Endemic Species conserved by struggling graziers - Margaret House
(1) NSW Irrigators look to secure future

The irrigation industry is working towards identifying National research
priorities, in order to secure its future and its vital resource - water. The
National Programme for Irrigation Research and Development is holding a
number of meetings with stakeholders from various industry's that rely on
water, like rice, sugar and cotton. In Narrabri in the North West of the
state, over 50 people from the cotton industry gathered to discuss their
needs, and how they might enter the water reform process.
(2) Icebergs as a water resource

 As the prospect of water shortages in many parts of the world increase
 . Wrapping icebergs in big plastic bags, towing them to areas in desparate
need of
 quality water may seem far fetched but scientists are already experimenting
 with the concept.  
 (3) End to right to farm disputes in Vic?

 Real Estate agents could be the key to maintaining harmony between farmers
 and their new neighbours. Under proposed changes to the Sale of Land Act,
 real estate agents would be obliged to tell prospective buyers about the
 types of farming taking place near the property. Other initiatives include
 appointing mediators to settle disputes
(4) WA Liberals looking at property rights

The WA Liberal party has put out a direction statement called "in defence of
property rights" and will be looking at property rights & compensation issues
relating to
* Bans on the clearing of native vegetation
* Use of private property for pipeline or power line easements
* Resumption of private land for roads, water supplies and other public
* Restrictions on land uses in order to protect surface and ground water
* Restrictions on land uses as part of regional or other planning schemes

The taskforce wants to consult widely and develop a broad ranging policy by
the end of 2002

Craig Underwood believes it would be irrelevant for groups opposed to
property rights to be part of the consultation process, as injustice is not
an option.
(5) Bill Soko (Daintree Rainforest Foundation) comments on Population Limits


Population Numbers + Export Impacts

On the face of it we often look at the size of Australia and think
"that's a big country for only 20 million people."  But there are some
good reasons,,,,    geography; Australia is mostly arid or full desert, 75%,  
and has the smallest water resources and smallest area of fertile soils of
any continent.
  While we only have 20 million living here. we are feeding and supplying
another 100+
million people with our export of resources.    We export our resources /
environment and buy value added goods in return.   

Technology Costs  - Investment Costs

I keep hearing that we can increase our population if only we had
investment.  .......
If I had a $10 million subsidy a year to operate, I'm sure I could
produce a good crop to tomatoes each year and even employ a few people.

We are in a strapped financial situation.      Its too expensive to
improve management on our existing land,  so we often degrade our
environment.    We don't have the Israelis or anyone else rushing to our
arid lands turning them into a salad bowl because it cost too much  and there
is no profit in it, there is no market.
-- The market price is too low to justify teckno-production.   Only if
its largely subsidized, like the Alice-Darwin rail.

 Only lone individuals will self finance cottage or niche

As far  as feeding the starving millions.  there may be demand but they
cannot pay. So there is no point in growing below the cost of

Price Constraints

In my work I have also found that on the east coast there is precious
little good quality well watered reasonably priced farmland.    There is
a large supply of under-utilised good quality land, with and without
water, but the capital cost is a serious bar to its productive use.  

All this talk about opening up more lands across the continent and
population filling in fall away pretty quickly when economic reality
sinks in.   Someone has to actually buy the land.   If we were all rich
we could farm -- but then we wouldn't really need to.  And then it costs
too much to start up.  It hard to finance.    There is not much left of our
prime assets left in local hands.  

Investment and Marginal Lands
Invest in good land first.

Nearly all our good quality lands are already in some form production or
are held for speculation.     Before we talk of bringing ever more marginal
lands into production,  lets look at improving our prime lands.

Right now our existing irrigation systems waste about 50% of our water
resource.    Nobody seems to have any money to fix the earth canals or
move from open ditch to sprayers.   Many farmers want more dams (supply)
-- that seems to be easier that improving delivery systems.   But there
is hardly any water left uncommitted in our developed catchments.  But
even if there is water available,  farmers don't want to pay full
recovery price.  So who is going to do it for them??   The community is
not going to continue to subsidize water costs.     Urbanites
don't care if the price of irrigation water for sugar or rice goes up,
its still vastly cheaper than for urban use,    but the farmers bottom
line cares......

Investment in Marginal Lands

Marginal -- that's what they are.  Australia is littered with half-baked
land development schemes.  Endless numbers of potential farmers have
been ruined.    Rural populations are decreasing.  Marginal land
development is part of that scenario.  Land gives out -- becomes too
expensive to continue farming,   Marginal land costs more to come into
requires more inputs, and produces less.  It a total stuff over for all
involved -- and then the victims need welfare.

There are some high value crops that can be grown on poor quality land
but because we have so much of it production quickly out strips
demand.   Mangoes, cashews, olives and grapes are three good crops that
grow on poor soils.  

Marketplace is A-Moral

The big problem for all of us in exporting countries is that the market
place wants the cheapest goods possible.  It doesn't matter how much
enviro destruction, how many people are displaced or what conditions the
workers are in or how many people die for that matter.  The market wants
the cheapest price and would rather the price is kept down by armed
guards and armies than pay a fair and reasonable price.   Its hard to stay
alive or move to sustainable production when the market signal is -- cut
costs,  work harder for less,  live with increase in farm inputs.......   .  

Regulation -  More People More Regulation (of all types)

 The systems also cannot be run on a "voluntary compliance" basis.  More
people - more complex management / economic systems -- more regulation --
Less freedoms(?)  We are not talking just about control for control's sake.   
 We have to
rely on all kinds of "experts" to get by.    They must follow industry
standards -- no
matter what.  Or find your own market and good luck....   

When it comes to environmental standards, it will take enforceable
regulation, e.g. to stop illegal chemical dumping and local councils from
using land fills.    Many local governments in Qld and NSW do not want to
upgrade their waste control systems.  Neither do their ratepayers.   Should
they be allowed to pollute water tables and local creeks?  Or does democracy
fail the test here.   

Food for Thought -- Irrigation

Past Finance Minister, Senator Walsh  made an interesting statement on
irrigation systems a few years ago.  He said "all irrigation systems are
subsidized."   Almost none in Australia pays returns on capital
construction.   Australia and other exporting countries have borrowed
overseas or from the tax payers to fund the capital costs.  We then in
effect, sell subsidized produce on the world market.    Its not a good
economic proposition to talk about more dams.   Irrigation areas also
have a use-by date, usually about 40-50 yrs.   Rising water tables,
salinity, storage siltation, nitrogen run off, decreased fisheries, all
reduce the returns.  The "green revolution" was largely driven by
irrigation systems.   Maybe the rural decline is based on un-sustainable
practices meeting economic and/or environmental reality.   The big open
space with resources just laying around is a myth.

Population -- Who is going to come and where will they go?

They will not be going to the rural sector in any numbers.  They will
not develop an empty hinterland.  They will go to the coast - they are
not mad.  
After all that, there is one good reason to increase immigration and
start a government financed building program in North Aust. and that's
defence.   We do need some numbers to defend ourselves but those people
will not be farmers

 best of luck Leon.
(6) A  quick reply from Leon Ashby

G`Day Bill,
                A good range of issues there.
I agree Australia provides the resources for perhaps 100 million or more
people world wide.
I agree we can produce more with the land and water resources as is with more
investment  to improve efficiencies.

I disagee that it too expensive to improve the land. Every property my family
have been involved with, has been improved within the financial constraints
we were in, because it makes not only ecological sense but economic sense to
do so.
One property had 3 previous owners go broke on it. By addressing the copper,
selenium, molybedenum and zinc deficiencies over 10 years, soils and plants
became healthier, the carrying capacity doubled and marginal land became good

The Israelis & Japanese ARE interested  in helping co fund certain ventures
in Australia`s inland. They can see the potential and have begun talking to
certain individuals.
Yes current irrigation systems are wasteful, but this is part of the process,
first invest a few dollars to produce something, then as that makes a return,
invest a few dollars more and improve the system further etc etc, and in time
catch up with the best technology. Sometimes the cost of installing all the
best technology at once can be too big a risk to launch into, so staging
steps are wiser.

  I have run marginal enterprises on both "prime land" and"marginal land",
and it is the cost / price squeeze or the high debt load when starting a new
venture rather than the land giving out that usually forces people off the

I agree totally on your comments about the market place being A-moral.

I disagree with the comment about all environmental standards requiring
enforcability. The environment is like the human body. Treat it right and it
works well. Treat it bad and it becomes unhealthy. Landholders know this, and
that is why they believe there is only limited regulation needed in a society
that is just and open. Sure poisons and waste disposal needs regulation when
there is no affect to the polluter on his own living if he pollutes. But for
landholders there is a direct effect on their production and income if the
production system declines. Our land only works well by working with nature.
It is a natural self regulating system. If we are observant or monitor over
time we learn from the land how to treat it well.

Senator Walsh`s comment on all irrigation systems not paying for themselves
is not exactly correct. There are thousands of irrigators who have paid all
the cost`s of their own irrigation system and have been successful.

Many Landholders believe there is nothing wrong with having publicly owned
assets providing a public good e.g. Telstra, National parks and Irrigation
Telstra makes a positive return, Irrigators generally pay for the irrigation
scheme`s  running costs, while national parks don`t even blow wind up that

The idea of the Melbourne to Darwin Inland rail system is to encourage inland
areas to value add primary products inland and then transport them to
whichever destination they want quickly. If this occurs Australia can begin
to handle more people in the rural areas.

I`ll say more on population next edition
 (7) GM cotton seed to test new laws

 A cotton seed company has become the first body to effectively test out
 Australia's new laws governing genetically modified crops. The Office of
 the Gene Technology Regulator has accepted an application from Cotton Seed
 Distributors, to plant insect resistant cotton, as part of a two year
 trial. The company wants to plant up to 480-hectares, over 6 sites in the
 Queensland shires of Emerald, Bourke and Balonne, a plan the public is now
 being invited to comment on. For more on GM approvals click here
(8) Dung beetles to clean-up waterways

  Tens of thousands of specially selected dung beetles will be released onto
grazing lands near waterways, in a effort to stop nutrient run-off and
pollution of streams.
It's a combined community and government project. Project officer Caroline
Beare calls them "enviro beetles" because they reduce dung and increase
nutrient recycling.
 Expert, John Feehan, says in the Bega Valley there are 100,000 cattle,
 dropping about 18kg of dung each day, which is a massive waste of resource
 if beetles aren't converting it.
 (9) Land clearing data

 The land clearing debate has taken another twist with conservation groups
 claiming new figures show a 22% blow out in clearing and Qld is the worst

 The report says between 1997 and 1999 Australia cleared
 nearly 700,000 ha of native bush with Qld and NSW the worst offenders being
 responsible for nearly 80% of all clearing. Mr Connor says the figures are
 proof positive that Australia needs national land clearing controls. The
 Government says the figures are pre the new Land clearing control
 legislation, they place more faith in the objective figures of tree
 clearing gathered from satellite imagery rather than the "guesstimates of
 ecoystems status" prepared by the herbarium which includes the likes of
 grasslandand flowers etc. The Qld Government says it is prepared to work
 the Commonwealth to reduce tree clearing, but the sticking point is always
   From Desiree Mahony

 (10) Landholders should stop treeclearing

I have been watching some of the issues that you have been putting out.. Some
of it seems alright and some of it is clearly not. I agree that scientic
research needs to acted upon.  It is clear in this country that we do have a
lot of land degradation problems and unfortunatley many landholders do not
want to do anything about about it.  The CSIRO has stated for a long time the
problems associated with landclearing, yet many of your members do not agree.
 Often it is still the old saying of "my father did it this way and I am
doing it this way"
Sustainablity just does not happen over night.  It needs positve change. This
means that your members should start changing their farming practices if they
want to be seen as doing the right thing.
Desiree Mahoney (a concerned Landholder)
Hi Desiree,
                    Thanks for your comments. We hope you will view our web
site and read the pages with
landholder interviews,
treepulling and other tools, Environmental myths - tree
increase etc - (just click on these blue words if you are on line) and
see we are progressive land managers, mostly landcare members, and have
reversed a lot of land degradation, such as erosion using tree pulling as
just one of the tools to achieve this. This thought blows many people`s minds
because they can only imagine tree pulling in terms of their own limited
experiences and culture.(Paradigm)

When Jane & I first went to Qld 16 years ago, seeing trees regrow rapidly and
tree seedling germinate at densities of up to 5000 per ha, we were amazed.  
As we farmed we noticed some Qld soils need disturbance to establish grasses,
and that the land was much clearer in the past and that too many trees could
reduce grass cover and cause erosion in some environments, so we can
understand your surprise about our group`s views.

We do not however support totally unregulated tree pulling, only that which
produces more positive results than negative ones, and has a planning process
involved to ensure all endangered ecosytems, species or species habitats are
conserved, and has compensation where property rights are removed.

Our group believes
(1) All land management tools (fire, grazing, animal impact, ploughing,
treepulling, rest etc) can cause harm or good depending on how they are
used.- Most management tools cause some short term ecological harm in the
achievement of greater ecological good
(2) Local managers should be the judge of which tools are suitable to the
local situation and
(3) Flexible use of all tools is required for the best management of the

Having an inflexible approach based on emotion rather than fact is similar to
banning open heart surgery or banning pruning garden plants or anything else
that looks bad but has an overall positive result.

In places such as the Desert Uplands in Qld, landholders are slowly reversing
degradation that began a century ago from factors such as
# Fire activity being reduced from the late 1800`s allowing tree numbers to
# when property`s began being fenced, the customary set stocking caused
overgrazing and many "soft" and perennial grass to decline.
# The soil surface capped and more water ran off the land instead of soaking
into the soil.

This was many years before dozers were ever brought into the area, and well
before  Australian families first owned many places like my property  (It was
owned by an overseas based company before 1967)

Many of us are keen to see a well thought out environmental management system
such as the one Jock Douglas is working on, become available to help verify
the unrecognised and unappreciated good management being done by many
landholders .

 Hope this clarifies a few things Desiree

Leon Ashby
(11) Kalahari Farmer to speak in NT

Holistic Farmer Dick Richardson who runs cattle on the edge of
the Kalahari Desert, an area which has similar production land types and
rainfall to Central Australia has made some major gains in
his operation, among them a 20% increase in beef production while looking
after pasture more effectively. They have also managed to drop their diesel
consumption by 40%.
 (12) Adelaide-based CRC for Plant Based Management of Dryland Salinity begins

Chariman of the CRC for Plant Based Solutions, Alex Campbell, a farmer from
Western Australia, says he doesn't want people to have a mis-understanding
about what the CRC is trying to achieve.
Mr Campbell says the emphasis is on  getting perennial plants
 back into the landscape. He says there are a whole range of other benefits
 than just addressing the water table and dryland salinity. He says if we
 can get perennials back into the landscape they are firstly less affected
 by frost, drought and flood and all the other problems we have had with
 annual agriculture.

Mr Campbell states that because they are deeper rooted
 they recycle nutrients that are lost to the shallow-rooted annuals and they
 play a role in reducing the acidifcation of soil due to that recycling at
 depth. He says they tend to spread the risk for farmers in an economic
 sense, rather than having everything in wheat, sheep or cropping if we can
 have perennials on the landscape they are not only providing fodder for
 livestock, but they also diversify the income from mallees to some other
 form of harvestable crop as well.
 (13) Endemic Species conserved by struggling graziers - Margaret House

Our next door neighbours have several hectares of wonderful natural springs.
In these springs there have been identified a species of fish and two species
of plants which are found nowhere else in the world! Totally unique to this
These people are struggling financially. We have had drought for seven years
in the last nine and a half. These people could greatly increase their
overall production and help to drought proof themselves if they fenced off
the total springs area, planted introduced non-native pastures in the
springs, then, when the next drought comes they would have abundant feed for
their stock.

They have received advice from naturalists that this course of action would
almost certainly choke out the rare plants, greatly reduce the water supply
and probably kill out the rare fish. Our neighbours have agreed to preserve
the springs in their current natural state.
However, as you can see, it is at great expense and future sacrifice to
themselves. They alone are sacrificing their own income and standard of
living to protect a wonderful natural resource. For whom? The rest of
Australia. They receive not a word of thanks, not a cent of assistance!
  Is this fair and Just?

Margaret House, Aramac, Qld


The topic of sustainability is an extremely complex issue, without any agreed
understanding of what it means. The definition of sustainable development
from the Bruntland report is “development that meets the needs of the
present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their
own needs”.

Yet there in no agreement as to what the definition may mean in practical or
theoretical terms. There is not a common approach between governments or
anybody else about what to do, or even in what direction to start to move.
Yet many governments in developed countries have implemented legislation and
policies which are intended to contribute to the attainment of a state of

 Systems thinking shows us that intuitive solutions to problems are almost
invariably exactly the opposite of what is required. It is suggested that
current policies and extension practices are intuitive in nature and hence
should be viewed with suspicion in that they may actually be exacerbating the

The Essential Elements of Sustainability

The United Nations commissioned a study of sustainable development. The
report, referred to as the Brundtland Report, was released in 1987. Among
many other things, the report was very clear about the condition of
sustainability and sustainable development. It declared that for a condition
of sustainability to exist,  four criteria must be satisfied simultaneously:

    environmentally sustainable
    economically sustainable
    socially sustainable
    societally sustainable.

This is a difficult set of criteria to meet, as it requires agreement from
all of the stakeholders. But the UN is very clear that unless all four are
met, the resulting condition cannot be regarded as being sustainable.

Peter Ellyard maintains that the conservation lobby has captured the debate
on sustainability, and has shifted the focus to environmental sustainability
only, excluding the other elements. This means that the present focus on
environmentally sustainable development will not lead to a condition of
sustainability, and is in itself unsustainable.

In trying to define the meaning of sustainability, we may ask the question
"sustainable for how long?" - fifty years, a hundred years, a thousand years,
a million years. The earth operates within geological time, and any
discussion of sustainability must operate within the same time frame.

For example, it is not possible to consider sustainability in agriculture
without considering issues such as energy reserves. Petroleum reserves are
forecast to be exhausted in about 25 years, natural gas within about 40
years, and coal within about 200 years. It is irrelevant to argue that more
will be found, because we know that it will end at some time. Current
consumption of oil is about 3,ooo,ooo,ooo tons per year and is increasing
rapidly as the economies of developing countries grow. This means that any
consideration of a sustainable agriculture must include the impending end of
high energy input agriculture. Indeed, it is claimed that more energy goes
into the production of a motor vehicle that it will ever use in its working

Similarly, the global population is projected to increase from 6 billion to 8
billion by 2025. This is well within our field of consideration in
sustainability. This means that we will have to produce about twice as much
food from the available or less land, with no increase in degradation, little
increase in water or other inputs, and increasingly rigid legal constraints
on farm operations. This means that it is futile to discuss sustainability
under present conditions, but we must design system changes which "intercept"
changes to the global condition at some time in the future. That is, any
consideration must be in the form of a dynamic system rather than a static
system, and dynamic at the global, national and local levels.

We may ask ourselves about the morality of introducing a "sustainable" or
"regenerative" regime in agriculture, if it will restrict our ability to
increase productivity to the point where the worlds increasing population can
not be fed. That is, will agriculture be able to double production within the
next 25 years?
It is immoral for us to think that not all people are entitled to enjoy the
same standard of living as ourselves.

The Farm as a Dynamic Soft System

The farm is a system consisting of many subsystems and in turn is embedded in
many higher level systems at regional, industry, state and national levels.
It is impossible to create a major change in the behaviours and systems of
farmers  without a commensurate change at the higher levels within which they
are embedded. There are several levels of intervention that can be
implemented to change systems, but the most effective and permanent is to
change the paradigm.

Our best intentions and efforts are often operating in exactly the opposite
direction to that which is needed to solve the real problem. This is a major
failing of the western reductionist model for solving complex problems. This
warning should cause practitioners to think about the approaches currently
being suggested, including revegetation, and reduced use of fertilisers and
chemicals. These are basically intuitive responses to the problem.

Furthermore, Kuhn maintains that paradigms act as filters to data and
information. A person tends to “see” or accept only data that fits their
paradigm. If the data does not fit the paradigm, it is often not visible, or
is rejected out of hand, or causes great stress. This means that the average
urban Australian, living in a grossly unsustainable way, will not be able to
see or understand the changes to behaviour which will be needed to bring
about a condition of sustainability.

The Morality of a National Sustainable Agriculture

One global measure of national sustainable behaviour is the “ecological
footprint” (Meadows 1996).  The ecological footprint is defined for each
nation in terms of the amount per capita of surface area on the planet needed
to maintain the lifestyle of that nation. The USA has the largest ep, at 9.6
ha per capita, closely followed by Australia at 9.4 ha per capita. The next
is Canada, at 7.2, and Singapore at 6.6. The remainder follow in close
succession. The global average is 2.2 ha and is increasing as developing
nations improve their standard of living.

For every person on the planet to have equal access to land resources, our
ecological footprint would be about 1.5 ha each, and as the population
increases, this will reduce to about 1.0 ha by 2040.

Our cities act as giant sinks for food, materials and energy.

Rogers (1997) describes cities in this way “Today’s cities are consuming
three-quarters of the world’s energy and causing at least three-quarters of
global pollution. They are the places of production and consumption of most
industrial goods. Cities have become parasites on the landscape - huge
organisms draining the world for their sustenance and energy: relentless
consumers, relentless polluters”.

Our behaviour as a nation is a reflection of our national values and beliefs.
As the most highly urbanised society in the world, our cities are designed
and behave in a manner which is grossly unsustainable. This means that to
promote a sustainable agriculture is to insist on a set of behaviours,
beliefs and values on the part of primary producers which is greatly
different to those of the rest of the nation, and not supported by
Australians as a whole. It could be argued that this is immoral in nature,
and pragmatically impossible to achieve.

So ecologically sound agriculture requires change, not only at the level of
the farm household, but also at the level of the institutions in which it is
embedded. The Australian people in general tend to ignore ecological
imperatives when these are incompatible with their own personal wants, needs
and ambitions.

It is destructive and dishonest in the medium to long term for us to berate
the primary producer for not behaving in a sustainable manner when our
society refuses to think and act in the same way. That is "do as I say, not
as I do". It is not possible to introduce the level of change needed to
achieve sustainability without major changes in the paradigms of the

The hardest part of this process is creation of a clear vision of the desired
state. It can be argued that Australians have diverged from a sustainable way
of life to such an extent that they can not conceive what sustainability
really means, or looks like.  

The basic principles are in place already: futuring, scenario building,
strategic planning, setting SMART goals, determining benchmarks and assessing
progress against benchmarks.

Without these, any action to creating sustainability is ad hoc at the best,
and probably doomed to failure, frustration and dismay.

Dan McLuskey,

Mackay, Queensland