By PAUL HOOPER

15 Feb, 2007 07:00 PM
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A FIVE-YEAR $2.5 million landcare support commitment from Australian agribusiness giant Elders has signalled a change in the nation¹s approach to sustainable farming practices.

As climate change becomes increasingly topical in the agricultural sector, Elders has emerged as one of the first profit-driven agribusinesses to recognise that farming into the future is a top priority.

According to Elders network operations group general manger Rick Jackson, the company¹s support was not simply about signing a cheque.

³It¹s about the people on the ground, farming now and for future generations,² Mr Jackson said.

Elders¹ contribution is one of the largest corporate donations Landcare Australia has received in its 15-year history.

At the official launch of the WA Elders landcare partnership at the Vines Resort in the Swan Valley last week, Mr Jackson said the funding showed commitment to on-ground action and passion among rural communities.

Officially dubbed the Elders Landcare Farming Partnership, the major objective of the initiative is to encourage all landowners to adopt sustainable land management practices.

³It¹s about leaving the farm and society in a better place than when we started,² Mr Jackson said.

Mr Jackson said there was a commercial aspect to Elders¹ support of landcare.

Elders¹ work in Asia had identified the increasing demand for clean, green and healthy food.

³And they¹re starting to ask us if we are sustainable,² Mr Jackson said.

³We think there will be markets soon, where it won¹t be enough to be just competitive on price.

³We¹ll be asked, how are we farming?²

Mr Jackson said WA was the best-placed state to take advantage of growing Asian markets.

³Landcare is going to be what deals us into the next 50 years in terms of that region,² he said.

³No other state has that opportunity and it¹s an opportunity we shouldn¹t be throwing away.²

Mr Jackson said the level of agricultural product scrutiny was rapidly expanding in European countries and it would not be long before the same happened in Australia.

³It becomes a long-term stewardship and what we leave behind when we are no longer the people looking after the land,² he said.

³For Elders it¹s about giving something back to the community that we¹ve been a part of for a very long time.²

The partnership is already underway in WA with a pilot project in Merredin.

Landcare Australia chief executive officer Brian Scarsbrick said he hoped the partnership would stimulate further uptake of sustainable farming practices.

³This marks the beginning of a very exciting time,² Mr Scarsbrick said.

³We¹re embarking on one of the most far-reaching landcare farming initiatives ever taken.²

Landcare and Elders partnership pilot projects were also underway in the eastern states, Mr Scarsbrick said.

³We know farmers are facing a tough time after a dry winter and they are facing issue like erosion and salinity,² he said.

³We need to help those farmers secure a more sustainable future by providing support through resources, tools and programs.²

And the US, New Zealand, the Phillipines, Germany and some African nations have also adopted a landcare program based on Landcare Australia.

Agriculture Minister Kim Chance said the State Government remained committed to sustainable farming in WA and encouraged corporate input.

³This partnership is not only important, it¹s very necessary,² Mr Chance said.

Government research in a 10-year period showed some overseas markets would close for Australia, if the nation could not prove it was farming in a sustainable manner.

Mr Chance said markets had already closed for some parts of the WA forestry industry because they could not prove they were operating in a sustainable enough way.

³It¹s not something we need to panic about but it is something we need to take an initiative on,² he said.

³The corporate sector is essential for the way forward to develop landcare and bring it into the mainstream.²

Mr Chance said the WA Parliament took the threat of degradation to WA¹s farmland and waterways very seriously.

The Agriculture Department developed the Farming for the Future initiative in 2003 to meet markets for sustainable farming practices and create certification for sustainability.

The department initiative is purely voluntary.

While the initiative had some way to go, Mr Chance was confident WA would reach farming sustainability certification.

³We will be the only state in the world that has that and we will be market leaders,² Mr Chance said.

³We know it¹s a big call and we know that to fulfil that full measure of sustainability it might be 20-25 years away.

³But we need to show the world where we¹re going and how we¹re going to get there.²

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