Sustainable farming: An introduction to small farm sustainability in Australia

 Small farmers and hobby farm owners consistently rate sustainability of their property as one of the most important factors to consider. 'Sustainability' is a  term that tends to be used loosely. It can mean very different things to different people.

What is sustainability in farming?

For some small farm owners, it may simply mean having the opportunity to become more connected with nature. Having sufficient area for a large vegetable garden and a few acres to rear and care for a few farm animals is a pleasure denied to most Australians, given our predominantly urban lifestyle.

For others, it can mean much more, giving them an opportunity to live a lifestyle that reflects their beliefs and attitudes. This might include having the opportunity to choose the type of house they live in, how they use energy, water and other resources, what food they grow,  what fertilisers and pest control inputs are used, how they treat animals reared for food and how they interact with and impact on the immediate environment around them. It can also give them an opportunity to be in control of how they make a living and connect with a community.

 Sustainability – a definition

 There are varying definitions for sustainability, and most include elements of the environment, economy and society. One of the best definitions I've  encountered is also one of the simplest:

 'Sustainability is the capacity to endure; economically, socially, and environmentally.'

 This definition makes is apparent that sustainability is not just about the environment, it is also about people and money. It also implies that to be  sustainable the effects must be long term, which I believe should be taken to mean being capable of lasting at least from one generation to the next.

 The definition further implies that if something is environmentally favourable but not economically feasible or socially acceptable, then it cannot really claim  to be sustainable.

Limitations to farm sustainability in Australia

Before you decide to embrace small farm sustainability 'boots and all', it is important to have a good awareness of factors that are arguably unique to Australia, which are likely to impact on your efforts.

Australia is incredibly vast in size, traversing several time zones and distinctly different climatic areas. It encompasses several different landscapes varying from tropical rainforest to extremely dry desert with the vast majority of land being of the semi-arid 'outback' type. Within these landscapes, extremes of weather are common, both in temperature and rainfall. Long periods of drought, with the possibility of occasional but extensive flooding, are an expected norm in many localities.



"Before you decide to embrace small farm sustainability 'boots and all', it is important to have a good awareness of factors that are arguably unique to Australia"

 Geologically, Australia is earth's oldest continent and as such has some of the world’s poorest soils in terms of fertility. Alternative farming methods that  rely on 'activating' or 'releasing' nutrients in such situations are likely to have poor prospects for success.

 Ecosystems that have evolved in Australia's landscapes are often fragile and vulnerable to damage from farming activities, conventional or otherwise.  Unfortunately, historically, our farming track record has not been good in this respect.

 Australia also has unique characteristics when it comes to its population distribution. Almost 90% of Australia's population is urbanised with over 80%  living in just one percent of the continent's area. Of this, the vast majority lies within the coastal strip stretching between Brisbane and Adelaide. Around  80% of the continent contains just 3% of our population. This has obvious implications to the distances required for small farms to access markets and  services and therefore to decisions regarding where to live and farm.

 Taking information on sustainable farming practices from other countries and applying them without first considering Australia's own special characteristics  and needs could lead to a lot of costly mistakes and disappointment.

 Traditional versus alternative farming

 Traditionally, alternative farming practices such as organic, biological, biodynamic and permaculture have been associated with sustainability, probably  because these are regarded as being more environmentally friendly than conventional modern farming practices. While this might often be the case,  remember that these activities must also be economically and socially acceptable – and enduring. In some situations this might be difficult using just  alternative farming methods; it could well be that an integrated approach harnessing both conventional and alternative farming aspects result in more  sustainable results.

 In future articles I intend to explore the basis to many of these alternative types of farming as well as look at other opportunities for small farm  sustainability. These may include developments in renewable energy, water, soil, land care and native habitat conservation techniques, alternative building  materials and so on. I will also examine and discuss possible income opportunities that fall within the sustainability paradigm, including those of carbon  farming, small farm supplier co-operatives, supplying farmer markets, and engaging the local community through buying and selling locally.

The author, Roger Martyn has spent 20 plus years working in agriculture and horticulture since graduating from Massey University with an Agricultural Science degree. He has helped many farmers improve their farm productivity and profitability as well as often increasing the enjoyment they got out of farming.  

New Forum Topics

Topic Replies Last post Forum
5453 Pasture Improvement Costs
by@Nick on Mon, 01/14/2019 - 19:44
by admin
Wed, 01/16/2019 - 12:45
Farming Help
5349 Tractors
byBlackmount73 on Wed, 12/12/2018 - 21:27
by James F
Wed, 01/09/2019 - 19:27
Machinery & products
5451 17 year old with a strong passion for agriculture
byJames F on Wed, 01/09/2019 - 19:21
by James F
Wed, 01/09/2019 - 19:21
New Members
5363 Olive trees
bylazzaman on Sat, 12/22/2018 - 19:39
by Veronica
Wed, 01/09/2019 - 17:25
General Forum
5370 How to Package
byBarpajack on Thu, 01/03/2019 - 12:51
by admin
Tue, 01/08/2019 - 10:23
Farm planning
3319 Raising cattle for meat, how many per acre
bystevo7 on Mon, 01/29/2018 - 10:25
by admin
Tue, 01/08/2019 - 10:19
Farming Help
5371 Old Paddocks
byRowey5215 on Thu, 01/03/2019 - 23:35
by Rowey5215
Thu, 01/03/2019 - 23:35
2759 On farm butchering and slaughtering
byWoody1975 on Sat, 02/20/2016 - 12:14
by IanBuchanan
Mon, 12/31/2018 - 05:04
Farming Help
5364 Sale options sheep
bysummit1966 on Tue, 12/25/2018 - 16:26
by summit1966
Thu, 12/27/2018 - 21:52
5347 Tractor Attachment Brands
byreeeen4 on Tue, 12/04/2018 - 13:54
by pk001
Sun, 12/23/2018 - 14:04
Farming Help
4168 Biodegradable soap for septic systems?
bytzeggy14 on Fri, 10/12/2018 - 08:26
by admin
Thu, 12/06/2018 - 10:59
General Forum
3272 My farming story from the beginning
byStevecz77 on Wed, 11/08/2017 - 09:19
by reeeen4
Tue, 12/04/2018 - 13:48
Farming Help
3855 Does anyone know about solid-liquid separator?
bytom2017 on Sat, 09/22/2018 - 16:06
by mark2020
Mon, 11/26/2018 - 17:43
General Forum
5338 Animal Scat
byCoastalfarmer on Tue, 11/20/2018 - 13:31
by Coastalfarmer
Thu, 11/22/2018 - 10:23
General Forum
4170 Paddock Preparation
byGuy on Sun, 10/14/2018 - 20:18
by Guy
Tue, 11/20/2018 - 18:36
Farming Help
5337 Lonely pig
byneilster9 on Mon, 11/19/2018 - 06:37
by neilster9
Mon, 11/19/2018 - 06:37
Farming Help
3843 Paddock Restoration
byMickNShaz on Wed, 09/19/2018 - 14:38
by MickNShaz
Sun, 11/18/2018 - 12:37
Farming Help
5335 electric fence help
bysummit1966 on Mon, 11/12/2018 - 21:36
by summit1966
Wed, 11/14/2018 - 18:50
General Forum
5320 dorper sheep new business
byBaarambaa on Sun, 11/11/2018 - 12:50
by Baarambaa
Wed, 11/14/2018 - 15:02
New Members
5317 The New Kid on the Block...
byRobdog on Fri, 11/09/2018 - 21:28
by admin
Wed, 11/14/2018 - 12:12
New Members

Our Sponsors

Our Partners