The Australian livestock industry spans across an incredible 47% of Australia's landmass, so has a big impact on the environmental sustainability of the country. The management practices of our farmers can either have a positive impact on our natural resources or if badly managed can have a detrimental impact.
Australian livestock farmers haven't always managed the environment as sustainably as they do today. As with many industries there were some historical practices that we now look back on and find it hard to believe that people thought they were doing the right thing. For example, the clearing of large parts of native vegetation in southern Australia lead to some severe examples of environment degradation. The government actually required farmers to totally clear their land, with the belief that to farm in Australia the environment needed to look and be more like how it was in Europe. Of course this didn't turn out to work that well and if farming practices had continued this way on mass it would have ultimately lead to the environmental and economic sustainability of the livestock industry being in jeopardy.
What is a sustainable environment for the livestock industry?
If the livestock industry as a whole didn't manage natural resources well it would mean that the industry could not continue to operate. Simply put, the industry needs good quality soils, grasses, vegetation and water ways to be able to raise cattle. Farmers today think of themselves as managing a number of living organisms – their cattle, the grasses on their property, the trees and other vegetation on their property and importantly the soils on their property which ultimately underpin the whole operation. Environmental sustainability for the livestock industry means that all of these living things are healthy and working in harmony with one another.
Sustainable economic development
Livestock farmers have been managing the twin challenges of sustainability, at the same time as striving to increase productivity in the context of a highly variable climate. For farmers managing natural resources is intrinsically tied with economic sustainability and neither can be dealt with in isolation.
Ensuring environmental sustainability
The Australian red meat industry and the federal government are working together on a number of programs to ensure the industry is environmentally sustainable. Meat and Livestock Australia coordinates a large research and development program on behalf of the industry focused on addressing soil erosion, dryland salinity and soil acidification.
The industry is also focussed on farmer training to ensure that as improved farming techniques are developed that practices are changed on farm. Training takes many forms from formal to community groups.
As well as managing their own properties many farmers are active environment volunteers. The most common group that farmers volunteer through is Landcare. Landcare was jointly established 20 years ago by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) and the National Farmers' Federation (NFF). Initially Landcare focussed on improving natural resources on farms and surrounding catchment areas. Landcare provides grants for farmers to undertake projects on their property, often with the help from environment volunteers to help with things like tree planting or clearing weeds. Farmers also get together to work on projects in their local area, such as revegetating along river banks and revegetating areas with native plants.