Trust for Nature (Vic)
Western Districts, Victoria
This case study has been created from the final report prepared in 1989 on the lifetime of the Potter Farmland Plan project 1984 – 1988. Where relevant, links to further publications have been provided.
In 1984, The Ian Potter Foundation initiated its first major rural project: The Potter Farmland Plan. The decision by the Governors of the Foundation to support this project reflected the growing concern among the general community about the degradation of Australia's land. Media attention in the early 1980s highlighted the legacy left by years of land clearing, erosion, tree decline and an increase in salinity.
The Foundation sought the advice of several groups, government departments and individuals. Among these were Professor Carrick Chambers of the University of Melbourne, and a foundation member of Victoria's Garden State Committee, who had been closely involved in the formation of Farm Tree Groups (set up to reverse tree decline) throughout Victoria.
John Jack, then Chairman of the Garden State Committee was also involved, and at a later stage when the project team was set up, Peter Mathews joined as a Consultant to the Potter Farmland Plan Executive. The Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands (then) with the Hon. Rod McKenzie as the responsible Minister gave support to the project from its earliest stages.
The purpose of the Potter Farmland Plan Project was to demonstrate:
The farmers were offered two-thirds of the cost of on-farm work but finished up contributing almost half the cost. The cost of the work ranged from $100 to $250 per hectare to fully implement a whole farm plan.
The size of the farms and the financial status of the farmers involved covered a wide range. This provided a basis for relationships with a wide cross-section of farmers and business interested. This range occasioned some criticism and jealousy at the local level from surrounding farmers who were not selected for involvement in the project.
Unique features of the project
The uniqueness consisted of a number of interrelated factors:
Results at Demonstration Farm level
The setting up of the demonstrations was completed over four years. Work was done on 15 farms. Of these, six farms were largely re-planned and completed. The other nine were re-planned but only certain sections which offered an opportunity to demonstrate how a particular area could be handled were completed. The treated areas of those farms where the whole farm was re-planned ranged in area from 260 to 500 hectares. The overall area treated was 3460ha.
It was not expected that there would be short-term gains, but the minimum return for all was, in fact, a capital gain equal to the total expenditure and the addressing of land degradation has begun.
Others reported increased production and time saved. Some $503,000 was spent on farm works and $980,000 on the project overall.
Response of surrounding farmers
The response of farmers in the surrounding district to the field days conducted on the farms was that they wished to take similar action on their own farms. A class-based course in Whole Farm Planning was introduced to meet this need. The courses were conducted over six weeks in six half-day sessions with 20 participants at each course.
Government and business response
Ministers at both State and Federal level also expressed interest in the project. The Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands plans to appoint a person full-time to promote access to the Potter Farmland Plan farms and other demonstrations in the region and to promote farmer involvement in the Whole Farm Planning short courses. The Commonwealth Department of Agriculture and Rural Affairs also agree to encourage their staff and farmers to participate in the Whole Farm Planning short courses.
The corporate sector also showed interest in the program as it affected their relationships with farmers and the land. The banks used information gained to adjust policies have made grants to assist with the holding of a National Conference. Other business interests were involved in consultations and contributed to a workshop on added value activity for country regions.
Farmer and public response
Visits to the Demonstration Farms involved farmers as well as business, education and government interests from all over Australia and from different farming operations (Cropping, grazing, dairying, horticulture etc). More than 3500 people visited the farms or were personally addressed by field staff or demonstration farmers from 1985 to 1988.
The things that impressed farmers most particularly were:
At the same time, there were many who looked for a 'prescription' rather than 'basic principles' on which to replan their farms. This tendency has arisen because of the practice of giving advice to farmers without encouraging them to think through the fundamentals for themselves.
The demonstrations are a resource of immense value provided they are maintained over the next ten years. The demonstration farmers will need continuing information and service (not finance).
The report of the project (now published) will be made available for wide distribution.
To take oversight of the follow-up activity, a not-for-profit company (Potter Farmland Plan Limited) has been established (this company has since been wound up as the Landcare movement developed to extend the work started by the Potter Farmland Plan). Its main objectives will be to stimulate the setting up of locally relevant class-based courses across Australia and the production of a video of Whole Farm Planning (this was published as On Borrowed Time: A Guide to the Potter Farmland Plan and is available on YouTube).
The project's success was the result of a team effort. The staff (a project manager and assistant) were tireless in their efforts to organise the operation. The demonstration farmers gave themselves fully to the task of the re-planning process and implementation. The executive committee and consultants gave valuable backup service, and the Honorary Executive Chairman gave invaluable full-time service over the whole four years of the project. The Departments of Conservation, Forests and Lands and Agriculture and Rural Affairs played a supportive role throughout.
The project was most timely and both touched and stimulated the sympathies and support of many concerned with the state of the land farmers, banks, pastoral houses, researchers, educators and governments.
A sound approach has been provided for handling the sustainability of our farmland in a practical and economic manner.