FARMERS are one step closer to being recognised and rewarded for their efforts in enhancing and maintaining biodiversity across 51 per cent of the Australian landscape.
Last week, a bill to create the legal framework for a national voluntary agriculture biodiversity stewardship market was introduced in Federal parliament.
The Agriculture Biodiversity Stewardship Market Bill introduced a tradeable biodiversity certificate to reward farmers.
Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the bill presented a new opportunity for Australian farmers to utilise their land management expertise to create new income streams.
"This bill will allow farmers to use less productive agricultural land to improve biodiversity and provides a robust national legal framework to back it up," Mr Littleproud said.
"We're making sure there are clear definitions in place on what eligible projects are, through biodiversity protocols, which will enable farmers to be rewarded for their land stewardship.
"The bill will create a biodiversity certificate, which will be tradeable - that means biodiversity outcomes can be purchased, transferred, claimed, or used."
The voluntary scheme will allow farmers to trade their biodiversity values and create a pathway to both reliably measuring and reporting biodiversity and to use that knowledge to participate in emerging markets.
These so-called 'new commodities' will support greater diversity of income, lead to more resilient farm businesses in the face of challenges such as drought and empower Australian agriculture to further demonstrate its sustainability credentials.
Under the framework, biodiversity, unlike traditional farm commodities which are delivered to a buyer, will need to be maintained and/or established within the farm boundaries, much like carbon sequestration in vegetation and soil.
There will be an ongoing relationship between the supplier (farmer) and purchaser to manage and report the status.
National Farmers' Federation (NFF) president Fiona Simson said the bill represented a transformational change for Australian agriculture, providing a carrot rather than a stick to farmers to positively manage their farm environment.
"Everyday Australian farmers manage more than half of the nation's landmass, on behalf of all Australians," Ms Simson said.
"The bill gives farmers another string to their bow - each season, farmers make choices about crop plantings and livestock numbers.
"The opportunity to trade their biodiversity values provides a further and longer-term choice that they can draw upon when it suits their farm business."
Under the bill, a single public register for the market would be established which would enable tracking of certificates, provide evidence for claims made by buyers and, over time, provide information to inform the market.
An independent expert advisory committee would also be formed which would be there to provide expert advice on biodiversity protocols.
The bill builds on the Agriculture Biodiversity Stewardship Package, which aims to improve onfarm land management practises and develop a market-based approach for rewarding farmers for the delivery of biodiversity services.
Mr Littleproud said the package was demonstrating that a market could deliver financial returns to farmers, by piloting projects that deliver biodiversity outcomes alongside carbon, and enhance remnant vegetation.
"We are building on the success of these pilots to deliver a long-term pathway to market for farmers - a market that is world-leading and informed by science," he said.
"Australian farmers are amongst our most important caretakers of the land - this is a chance to reward our farmers for the work they do and continue to build Australia's reputation as a sustainable supplier of agricultural products to the world."
The NFF had made it clear the bill must not limit the scope of activity to new biodiversity works or projects, but must also recognise and value existing habitat that farmers have voluntarily and responsibly maintained.
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