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Why Sustainable Farms?

Farm dams, creeks, remnant vegetation, native grasses and rocky outcrops are well-known features of farming landscapes. They are also valuable natural assets.

Our long-term ecology research on farms, supplemented by investigations into economics and mental health, shows that protecting and restoring natural assets on farms has multiple benefits.

Healthy natural assets support biodiversity and landscape function, which in turn underpin agricultural production.

From small, quick projects such as fencing a rocky outcrop, to longer-term investments such as planting a native shelterbelt, natural asset enhancements have something to offer for all farms and farming systems.

The Sustainable Farms project is locally embedded, working in the NSW South West Slopes, Central West, Murray-Riverina and North East Victoria.

Together with farmers, land managers, NRM agencies, industry groups and Landcare, we’re working towards a common goal: healthy farms, healthy farmers and healthy profits.

What we do

Our team of expert ecologists based in regional NSW and Victoria conduct long-term biodiversity surveys on farms to understand the role of natural assets. Their work is the continuation of more than twenty years of long-term monitoring in the region.

Our field team live and work in regional communities, sharing their ecological knowledge with the community, and learning directly from farmers who are undertaking natural asset management projects on their farms. These conversations sparked the genesis of Sustainable Farms, and help demonstrate the important role biodiversity plays in supporting ecosystem services and farm productivity.

Meet our field team here.

Partnerships are central to our work. We work closely with a range of groups and organisations in NSW and Victoria.

These include Landcare, farmer and community groups, Catchment Management Authorities and NSW Local Land Services, and other groups seeking to support transitions to sustainable agriculture.

These groups and agencies are deeply embedded in rural communities, with big goals and strong networks. Our research helps support and grow their work.

Read more about our partnerships here.

Farm field days bring together farmers, our ecologists and researchers, and people from partner organisations. Field days provide an opportunity to share knowledge, access the latest science to inform decision making, and learn from each other.

Sustainable Farms field days are run in partnership with local community, industry and government organisations. We aim to deliver field days that generate insights through different types of expertise coming together in the paddock.

Visit our events page here.

Our work relies on innovative farmers who have undertaken natural asset management projects and have shared their experiences with us and each other.

In particular, the twenty years of long-term monitoring on farms in the region would not have been possible without the many landholders who enable our team to visit and survey sites on their properties.

Click here for farmer stories.

Our interdisciplinary research program aims to investigate the relationship between sustainable farming, financial outcomes, and mental health.  In addition to our regionally-based field team, our work is supported by a team of researchers based at the Australian National University in Canberra.

This research provides evidence and insights to help shape policy, encourage practice change and support enhanced natural asset management on farms.

Find out more about our research.

Sustainable Farms brings science to the paddock, working closely with Landcare and with farmers to understand how improving natural assets can support farm productivity, biodiversity and mentalhealth. Find out more in this short video featuring our Lead Scientist David Lindenmayer, Claudia Wythes from Watershed Landcare, and farm dams researcher Ben Scheele.

Why this region matters

The Sustainable Farms project area supports 15,000 farmers and 23% of Australia’s sheep and lamb production, as well as beef, dairy and cropping. The original box-gum grassy woodland ecosystem that characterises the region has been substantially modified and only 4% remains intact, meaning that many of the unique plants and animals found here are now critically endangered. The ongoing productivity of the wheat-sheep belt rests on the health and restoration of the underlying landscape.

Building resilient farms and landscapes

Natural asset farming is an investment into the natural capital on a farm. It  involves projects that protect, sustainably manage, and restore the natural and modified ecosystems , and the ecosystem processes and services they support.

Natural capital includes air, water, soil, mineral resources and all living things, as well as the complex interactions among and between these elements (Bateman and Mace, 2020).

Most farmers are already aware that investing in natural capital is essential for enhancing the productive base that supports their farm.  The findings from our research, and the experiences of the farmers we work with, provide an outstanding source of information to support farmers seeking to build this productive capacity.

Most of the projects we advocate are relevant across production systems and commodity types. They are relevant to farmers who have already invested in some restoration, rehabilitation and conservation projects, those looking at what project to do next, and anyone seeking to begin investing in natural capital.

The diagram below highlights key projects that build natural capital and the benefits that flow from these investments.

Through supporting NRM agencies and Landcare groups, we aim to optimise investment in natural assets across the farming landscape, to enable multiple objectives to be realised – healthy farms, healthy farmers and healthy profits.

How practice change on farms leads to the improved outcomes at the farm and landscape scale

* Soil health and condition is well-canvassed by others in agricultural fields of research and outreach, so it is not a significant component of Sustainable Farms’ work. Nonetheless, enhancing the other natural assets that are a focus of our work has positive benefits for soil structure and retention.

Top: Remnant Woodland near Walla Walla (photo by Suzannah Macbeth).
Bottom: Native Grasses near Devenish (photo by Alice Marzano)

What is natural capital?

Natural Capital is sometimes described as a stock of natural resources that provide a flow of benefits or ecosystem services to people. These ecosystem services include carbon cycling, pollination, erosion control, climate regulation, and the natural amenity values which support recreation and wellbeing.

Water and land are elements of natural capital that have been well-recognised as essential to agricultural production. In recent years, another element of natural capital, carbon, has attracted significant focus for its capacity to mitigate climate change (e.g. through reforestation and soil carbon sequestration).

The fourth component of natural capital, biodiversity, supports fundamental processes such as the carbon and water cycles, as well as soil formation. It is critical to the health and stability of natural capital on farms.

The condition of natural assets on farms – including farm dams, riparian areas, rocky outcrops and native vegetation (remnant woodland, large old trees, native grasses and plantings such as shelterbelts) – is closely linked with biodiversity. Through protecting, restoring or enhancing natural assets, their role in maintaining and regenerating the ecological systems that support agriculture can be realised.

Join us to support healthy farms, healthy farmers and healthy profits.

If you would like to know more about Sustainable Farms, partner with us, contribute to the research or host or attend a field day, please get in touch.

Contact us