A more integrated and planned approach to land use in Australia's agricultural production areas will set the nation up to meet its production target of $100 billion, according to AgriFutures Australia-funded research.
Without an Australia-wide strategy linking government, agricultural industry, and the community, researchers believe farmland will be lost. Farmland has already declined by 14% over the last four decades.
Michael Beer, AgriFutures Australia General Manager, Business Development, said best practice land use planning was essential to balancing a growing population and its food and fibre needs, with housing and infrastructure requirements.
"Australia as a whole is significantly urbanised," Mr Beer said. "Around 81% of the population live within 50 kilometres of the coast, and 66% in capital cities.
"Australia has a unique population distribution, where 90% of people live on a mere 0.22% of the country's land mass. This means there is significant pressure on productive farmland."
Researchers Dr Amy Cosby and Dr Tanya Howard, Australian Centre for Agriculture and Law, University of New England (UNE), interviewed stakeholders involved in land use planning to develop five recommendations.
They recommend developing an overarching strategic plan for preserving agricultural land.
"For greatest effect," Mr Beer said, "the plan must be legally binding, and ensure farmers have adequate infrastructure, such as transport, to access growing markets. This is essential for the viability of the agricultural sector.
"The difference between urban and rural land must be recognised. This AgriFutures Australia research shows we must develop an innovative land use planning framework which prioritises the need for agricultural enterprises to be co-located within the community, while balancing the needs of a growing population and the environment."
Key among the recommendations are interactive tools that provide accurate and high-resolution data of land uses across regions, including predictions of the effects of land use change.
Mr Beer said this data - coupled with education programs to increase community knowledge and appreciation of agricultural businesses and economic contribution - would lead to greater cohesion between urban and farming communities.
"We'd also like to see economic models that help farmers plan for a financially secure retirement while enabling their land remains agriculturally productive," he said.
The research was funded under the AgriFutures National Rural Issues Program.
For more information and to read the full report, visit agrifutures.com.au/product/best-practice-land-use-planning/.