In 1984, The Ian Potter Foundation became involved in its first major rural project: The Potter Farmland Plan.
The Foundation allocated $250,000 a year for three years to establish demonstration projects on 15 farms, all existing properties in Victoria's Western District. At the time, it was the single most significant financial commitment made since the Foundation's inception in 1964.
The project aimed to show that, working with farmers and using readily available techniques, some of the main causes of land degradation could be addressed and rural land could be managed to gain maximum production, while still working within the bounds of sustainability.
Below we share an extract from the introductory chapter of On Borrowed Time, a guide that accompanied a series of videos about the Potter Farmland Plan.
The Origins: Background to the Potter Farmland Plan
The decision by the Governors of the Foundation to initiate 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.
A project that would effectively address these questions on a demonstration farm level needed to be assembled on a number of fronts, so 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 ass the responsible Minister gave support to the project from its earliest stages.
Farmer involvement was a key element of the success of the project, from the very early meetings which looked at the possibility of it getting underway, followed by the decision to offer a group of farmers the opportunity to become involved. As a result of these meetings, farmers agreed that the project had value.
Setting down the criteria for the selection of farms, farmers also set the procedure for calling for applications from those interested in becoming part of the project. The also gave the project its name.
Why the Western District?
The choice of the Hamilton region in Victoria's Western District, 300km west of Melbourne, was made for several reasons. Firstly, there was much evidence of widespread land degradation in the form of excessive tree clearing, erosion and salinity common to much of Australia's farmland. Secondly, several farmers in the region were already actively working withing Farm Tree Groups, with a body of knowledge about some of the steps needing to be taken.
Thirdly, farms in the Western District are geographically accessible, an important consideration for demonstration farms. A three-year time frame was chosen for the project because of general agreement that 'you can't d much in less than three years'.
The Project Team
The project was a three-part operation, with farmers and the Potter Foundation project officers working together and considerable infrastructure support from the Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands.
Working on a day-to-day basis with farmers were Andrew Campbell, Project manager, John Marriott, Project Officer, and Bill Middleton, Project Consultant seconded from the Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands.
The farmers who were selected as part of the Potter Farmland Plan agreed to make contributions in case, equipment, materials and labour of about one-third of the total cost of implementation for the whole farm plan. However, as their confidence in the farm planning process increased, many farmers exceeded this level of contribution.
Just on $1 million was spent on the project, of which almost 25% came from the farmers. There was an agreement that the plan should be put into effect as far as possible in the first three years. Farmers also agreed to their properties being used for monitoring and demonstration purposes both during the project and beyond its completion.
The Foundation's support of the demonstration project continued over four years, with work carried out on the 15 farms. During the first three years of the project, whole farm plans were substantially implemented on six farms. On the other nine, the farms were planned but works were concentrated on smaller portions of the farms.
The local community became involved in various projects on the Potter farms, including tree planting. There was a great deal of interest from those involved and much lively exchange about various aspects of the project between farmers and local people.
In 1990 a video series was produced called On Borrowed Time: A Guide to the Potter Farmland Plan. This series of short videos accompanied by a handbook was initially made available to farmers wanting to implement the plan on their properties. The full series of videos is now available on YouTube and the accompanying booklet and the project's final report can be viewed on ISSUU.
The extract above is from 'Chapter 1: The Origins', On Borrowed Time, compiled by Jane Sandilands.
The video series was produced by The Film House, written and directed by Richard Keddie, and presented by Neil Inall.
(C) 1990, The Ian Potter Foundation.