BIODIVERSITY FOCUS: Maranoa MP David Littleproud has announced a $30 million pilot Agricultural Biodiversity Stewardship program for farmers.
BIODIVERSITY FOCUS: Maranoa MP David Littleproud has announced a $30 million pilot Agricultural Biodiversity Stewardship program for farmers. File

Farmers to be paid to grow greener operations

AS SHOPPERS are increasingly drawn to sustainable and ethical products, the government is offering farmers incentives to improve biodiversity on their properties.

Minister for Agricultural David Littleproud said farmers would be encouraged to improve the biodiversity on their farms through the new program, which would incorporate payment for carbon if appropriate.

"If shoppers are prepared to pay more for produce that carries a biodiversity stamp, then let's create a brand and reward farmers who do that,” Mr Littleproud said.

The $30 million pilot Agriculture Biodiversity Stewardship Program will give farmers incentives for projects that boost biodiversity and, if appropriate, absorb carbon.

Mr Littleproud said this was where the rest of the world was headed.

"If Australia is to continue to be a world leader and maintain its key selling point overseas - our green reputation - then we need to be thinking ahead of the game and these schemes are part of that picture,” he said.

Projects could include maintaining or enhancing remnant forest, the regeneration of gullies or waterways, or mixed species native tree plantings.

Mr Littleproud said the programs would be trialled across different commodities and in different regions.

"I've always thought farmers should see the benefits of managing the biodiversity on their properties, and a market-based system can become a drought-proof income stream for them,” he said.

If the programs are successful they will be expanded as a national policy after the trial.

An additional $4 million will go towards creating a national and internationally-recognised biodiversity certification scheme to help biodiversity-friendly farmers get an extra premium for their product at the checkout when they trade with other countries.

The National Farmers Federation will help develop the certification scheme so farm groups will have ownership of it and invest in it.

"Farmers are already making money from carbon payments and in the future we could potentially see farmers receiving payment for both biodiversity and carbon benefits from the same project,” Mr Littleproud said.

An on-farm biodiversity policy and methodology will need to be developed and the government will consult with the Australian National University and farm groups.

"This pilot program is not part of the climate solutions fund, this is a dedicated trial aimed at biodiversity, although of course projects will likely have carbon benefits,” he said.

"Farmers should be rewarded for having plants and animals on their farm, not penalised through banning them using that land and offering no compensation.

"In many cases an incentive system such as this will both boost production - cattle and sheep put on more meat when they have good shelter which bush or shelter belts provide - plus the financial incentive as well.”

Almost 300 projects involving revegetation have been approved through the Emissions Reduction Fund.

Through this many landholders already believe they can make comparable returns from carbon payments to what they would running livestock, depending on circumstance and region.

"A biodiversity certification scheme will also give farmers motivation and reward for looking after nature on their properties,” Mr Littleproud said.