Small farming achieving a lot with a little

Small farming communities around Australia have seen great benefits following the 2015/16 Sustainable Agriculture Small Grants round. This programme, funded by the National Landcare Program under the administration of the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, wrapped up recently, with recipients keen to share their stories of success.

The objectives of the Small Grants Round were to prepare farmers and fishers for the future by:

  • increasing their capacity and knowledge to productively and sustainably manage Australia’s natural resources; and
  • promote the adoption of appropriate management practices that will increase the production or improve product quality while maintaining or enhancing the natural resource base.

Dairy farmer with child. Source: Project SGR1-0671, 2017.

Reported benefits of the Small Grants Round have included enhanced livelihoods from increased profitability, competitiveness and resilience; reduced environmental impacts by maximising resource-use efficiency; and enriched wellbeing through increased community support for agricultural producers.

DairyTAS implemented a project targeted towards new and expanding dairy farms in Northern Tasmania. The project was aimed at expanding the dairy industry’s Fert$mart program so Tasmanian farmers could benefit from national nutrient management guidelines.

This project allowed Tasmanian dairy farmers to make informed decisions about fertiliser use and minimise their overall environmental impact. The project is expected to result in 50 per cent of Tasmanian Dairy farmers having Fert$mart plans by mid‑2018. The long-term impact of this project will see dairy farmers releasing improved profits through nutrient use efficiency, ultimately reducing their costs on fertiliser, labour in conjunction with preventing adverse environmental impacts.

Another case study drawn from the large number of projects was the DigsFish Services Ltd project aimed to restore the shellfish habitat in the Ramsar-listed wetland, Pumicestone Passage in south-east Queensland. Australia’s first community-based oyster gardening program was established through this program on Bribie Island.

Project leader delivering oysters to an accredited oyster gardener. Source: Project SGR1-0153, October 2016.

Through this project the local community were educated on the ecological role of shellfish reefs, and recruited local residents to grow out oysters which have been used for experimental trials restoring shellfish reefs. Restoration activities have ultimately provided improvements in water quality and fisheries productivity in the local area.

These examples are a very small sample of some significant work that was achieved over the 18 month grant period. Outcomes from projects funded through the Small Grants Round have created lasting benefits to all community members and land users, proving the compatibility of both profits in agricultural industry and environmental stewardship by land users.

The Australian Government’s National Landcare Program Phase Two has allocated $134 million for Smart Farms Small Grants and Smart Farming Partnerships. These grants programs will support the development and uptake of best practice management, tools and technologies that help farmers, fishers, foresters and regional communities achieve a sustainable approach and beneficial outcomes. Applications for the first rounds of the Smart Farms Small Grants and the Smart Farming Partnerships grants programs are now closed. The Department looks forward to seeing what will be achieved through these grant rounds into the future.

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