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An Alternative Approach To Farm Forestry Development
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  An alternative approach to farm forestry development

If farm forestry is to help meet the needs and aspirations of all, effective strategies must be developed to identify opportunities and engage farmers and stakeholders. Strategies need to take advantage of the potential of forestry to contribute to the development of more resilient rural landscapes.

Instead of promoting single-purpose forestry options, stakeholders seeking particular outcomes, such as timber production, land degradation control or biodiversity, must try and marry their needs to those of farmers. For example, research suggests that for many farmers, being able to hand their farm over to their children in a better condition than they found it and farming within the environmental capacity of the land are important goals. Those stakeholders who are able to demonstrate how growing trees can help meet these aspirations are more likely to be welcomed by farmers.

Research by ABARE has shown that farmers who plant trees are primarily motivated by a desire to provide shelter for stock and crops, address land degradation and enhance wildlife habitat. Farmers rarely talk about their trees underpinning future timber supplies, reducing water treatment costs, reducing the trade deficit, or providing an alternative wood supply to native forests. These are the concerns of other stakeholders - stakeholders who do not own the farmland on which they would like to see trees grown.

Forestry clearly has a role to play in meeting many farmers’ needs and aspirations. However, it is unlikely that they will unconditionally accept the "best-bet" options advocated by single-interest groups. A more successful strategy might be for government, industry, conservation groups and water authorities to see themselves as the farmers’ clients or customers. If farmers design and manage their forests to better meet the interests of these customers, they may be able to negotiate attractive rewards for providing the forestry products and environmental or social services others are seeking. The rewards may come in many forms including:
• higher prices for forest products
• stewardship payments for providing environmental services
• rate rebates
• planning support
• grants
• special privileges
• marketing assistance
• invitations to participate in joint ventures.

The key is to allow farmers to retain the ownership and responsibility for land use decisions thereby encouraging innovation in design and opportunities for multipurpose production.

Australian farmers are highly regarded for modifying and adopting farming innovations to suit their needs and markets. By working with potential customers to find out what they want, farmers can consider farm forest designs that will deliver high quality products and services. This enables them to balance the likelihood of future sales with their own priorities before committing to a specific forest design. Purchasers can help by describing their product requirements and negotiating a price and point-of-sale agreement that encourages farmers to consider the most appropriate forest designs.

Farmers can service several different customers. For example, high value sawlogs don't need to be grown in a dedicated sawlog plantation – they could be grown in a wildlife corridor or a shelterbelt. The purchaser can benefit from this. They pay only for the outcomes they require, rather than the full cost of establishing and managing single purpose forests.

Penalties, like incentives, are another legitimate tool that governments and others can use to encourage farmers to pursue a specific outcome. For example, harvesting contractors often penalise farmers for the increased costs associated with harvesting small or difficult areas. Some local governments are introducing differential rating to offer rate rebates to farmers prepared to protect native forests or establish multipurpose farm forestry. In some areas they increase rates on industrial plantations that they believe are not contributing to their vision for the shire. Governments are also able to enact regulations and enforce codes of practice that can have a similar effect.

To be effective in encouraging farmers to develop efficient and innovative farm forestry designs and be committed to forest management and maintenance, any incentives, payments, penalties, regulations and codes of practice should focus on rewarding those who deliver the outcomes stakeholders are after. For example, land protection grants that simply pay for the seedlings and tree guards provide no guarantee that a forest will be capable of improving water quality or reducing soil erosion. Providing direct financial rewards to farmers who successfully establish a forest that provides real land protection values might be expected to result in greater efficiency and better rewards. In the same way, codes of practice that do not permit the harvesting of timber from stream reserves or native forests because of the anticipated environmental impacts may actually encourage neglect by discouraging revegetation and maintenance.

The wider community must recognise and accept that it is the farmers who make the final decision about the establishment and management of forests on their land. Farm forestry’s future in Australia depends on what forestry can do to support the needs and aspirations of the farming community and interest groups’ willingness to pay farmers for their preferred outcomes. With appropriate strategies, farm forestry will be able to evolve into an integral part of Australia’s farming landscape rather than replace it.

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