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Australian Rural Planning
A View From The Edge
Issues in Rural and Metropolitan Fringe Planning

Ian Sinclair,
Principal Consultant, Edge Land Planning
Rural and Environmental Planning Consultants

As published in New Planner, The Magazine of the Planning Profession in NSW
Number 38, March 1999
What is Sustainable Agriculture?
The term "sustainable agriculture" has many connotations and is linked to the concept of Ecologically Sustainable Development. I won't go into detail about the definition of ESD as that is well known. Suffice to say that it embodies the three themes of Environment, Economics and Social.
There are many definitions of sustainable agriculture, which attempt to embrace this. One such definition is provided in the ' Strategic Plan for Sustainable Agriculture - Sydney Region' as "Agriculture that improves the total quality of life, both now and in the future, in a way that maintains the ecological processes on which life depends".
Another definition is provided by the Standing Committee on Agriculture of the Australian Agriculture Council Working Group on Sustainable Agriculture and is "Sustainable Agriculture is the use of farming practices and systems which maintain and enhance the economic viability of agricultural production; the natural resource base; and other ecosystems which are influenced by agricultural activities.
All of these definitions embrace the concepts of environmental and economic issues, but do not consider the social aspects of sustainable agriculture. These include the capacity of agriculture to meet the demands of the population for healthy and fresh food and fibre products, as well as its ability to have a minimal impact on the amenity and peace of mind of community members, thus reducing rural land use conflict.
A definition for has been developed by Wollondilly Shire Council (which is to be incorporated into the LEP) is:
Sustainable Agricultural use of land means the use of land for animal boarding or training establishments, cattle feedlots, extensive agriculture, intensive horticulture, intensive livestock keeping establishments, opportunity feedlots or turf farming, which can be maintained and managed so that the land remains environmentally sustainable (that is, environmental pollution and land degradation arising from the use is minimised); socially sustainable (that is, land use conflict and loss of amenity of the surrounding area arising from the use is minimised); and economically sustainable (that is, there is a capability of making a net farm profit from the use).
The definition of "agriculture" is an important issue for the land use planning for sustainable agriculture. The definition of agriculture in most LEP's in NSW is taken from the EP&A Model Provisions, 1980 which, in turn, is taken from the, now superseded, Local Government Act of 1919 (Section 514A). The definition is as follows: -
"Agriculture and 'Cultivation' include horticulture and the use of land for any purpose of husbandry including the keeping or breeding of livestock, poultry or bees and the growing of fruit, vegetables and the like and agricultural 'and cultivate' have a corresponding meaning."
It is significant to note that this definition was derived for rating purposes and not land use planning. Having regard to the various types of agriculture and lot sizes, it is more appropriate to define the component parts rather that define "agriculture" per se. It is really only necessary to provide a definition if you want to require consent or to make the use permissible without consent. It is the potential for impact on the environment or adjoining owners and the ability to ameliorate those impacts that is a major factor in determining whether a use requires consent.
From a land use planning perspective, there are three broad agricultural uses in NSW: intensive horticulture, intensive livestock and extensive agriculture. It follows, therefore that there is a need define these uses separately. Both of the intensive uses should require consent and extensive agriculture should not as it is considered that it does not, generally, cause major land degradation or water quality problems and because it is considered to be an unreasonable imposition on the land owner to require consent for it.
A suggested definition for extensive agriculture (again taken from Wollondilly) is:
Extensive Agriculture means the growing of plants or the rearing of animals but does not include intensive horticulture, turf farming or the use of the land for animal boarding or training establishments cattle feedlots, opportunity feedlots or intensive livestock keeping establishments.
Hawkesbury Council has the following definition of intensive horticulture in the LEP:
Intensive Horticulture means the growing of plants and fungi using the following horticultural systems: Hydroponics, Artificial housing, Crop protection structure, Market gardening, Orcharding and Field flowers; except, where in the opinion of the Consent Authority, the produce is grown for personal household consumption or enjoyment.
This definition is used because of the need to use the horticultural system as the basis for definition. It is the horticultural system, which has the potential to cause land degradation, water quality or land use conflict problems. Other definitions give the Council the opportunity to decide it requires consent because of the potential to cause water quality problems. However, it is easier at the Counter to tell someone that their use (horticultural system) requires consent rather than because of an interpretation.
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