Sustainable Farms draws upon research programs across the Australian National University, focussing on its key research topics:
- Healthy Farms: Monitoring biodiversity and valuing ecosystem services in production landscapes
- Healthy Farmers: Exploring links between farmer mental health and natural resource management.
- Healthy Profits: Estimating the value of natural assets for farm profitability and financial resilience, and identifying financial tools to support farmers.
Sustainable Farms is proud to be part of the Australian National University’s Conservation Landscape Ecology group, founded by David Lindenmayer. The biodiversity data collected on farms by CLE over the past two decades is the foundation for the Sustainable Farms research and findings which we are committed to sharing with farmers and land management agencies. Farmers manage 48% of Australia’s landmass. Sustainable Farms aims to assist land managers by providing them with the results of our research so our findings can be implemented across the South West Slopes of NSW.
Long term monitoring on farms in the box gum grassy woodlands
Map showing the current study area of Sustainable Farms. There are 270 farms which have been surveyed on multiple occasions for biodiversity data across several different studies. Of these 270 farms, the Sustainable Farms initiative will fund ongoing biodiversity surveys on 132 farms between 2017 and 2022.
A key data set for developing ecosystem accounts for Box Gum Grassy Woodlands is the high-quality biodiversity and environmental data that has been collected by David Lindenmayer’s group at the ANU. Since 1998, the Lindenmayer group has visited over 309 farms in Box Gum Grassy Woodland ecosystems.
With over 740 research sites, this is one of the largest, long-term monitoring and research studies of its kind in Australia, in which high-quality data on vegetation, reptiles, birds, and arboreal marsupials has been gathered.
Professor Lindenmayer’s group has identified indicators that let us know if sustainable land management practices are working to maintain and improve the biodiversity of farm wildlife.
As part of Sustainable Farms, ongoing biodiversity data will be collected from 136 farms. These high quality datasets will continue to provide answers to key land management questions that are central to supporting the transition to sustainable farming practices.
One of the new projects Sustainable Farms is using this data to explore is the creation of an ecosystem accounting system for Box Gum Grassy Woodlands. This is a critically endangered ecosystem (listed under the EPBC Act in 2006), and much of the woodlands are used for grazing and other productive uses. Sustainable Farms will look at how farming these woodlands sustainably has benefits for farmers as well as maintaining and supporting this ecological community.
Research case study: Ecosystem Accounts
Ecosystem accounts will be developed for the Box Gum Grassy Woodland region that integrate information about the environment, economics and human well-being. An ecosystem account is like a balance sheet for the ecosystem and the farming system that it supports. Presenting the information in this way demonstrates the dependencies of human activities on ecosystem assets and the services they provide.
Ecosystem accounts will provide information to help us understand:
- How ecosystem assets and the services they provide support agricultural productivity and human wellbeing
- How investments in ecosystem assets provide future benefits for farmers and the community
- What is the value of programs we implement to support conservation of woodlands on agricultural land
- Who benefits from the use of different ecosystem services and what trade-offs may be required when these uses conflict
- How the condition of ecosystem assets change over time, and the drivers of this change, including impacts of human activities
- What are the options for land management planning and biodiversity conservation, including policy interventions, and how their progress towards targets can be assessed
This is a 2 year study that began in mid-2018. The study looks at the benefits of ecosystem services that are provided or maintained by sustainable farming practices: These benefits include:
- habitat provisioning for biodiversity
- recreational and aesthetic values
- water yield and quality
- carbon storage and sequestration
- control of erosion
This multifaceted study involves the following stages:
- Talking to farmers, local, state and national agencies, and others in the region about available data and the questions they want answered by the study
- Collating environmental, social and economic data, including site and spatial data
- Deriving functional relationships and classification systems to scale up site data across the landscape
- Spatial modelling of the extent and condition of ecosystem assets across the region in physical terms
- Assessing change over time in the extent and condition of ecosystem assets in relation to reference conditions
- Identifying relationships between social, economic and environmental data
- Valuation of the ecosystem services and tabulation of the supply and use of these services.
- Communicating significant findings from the study to farmers and other key interest groups.
By establishing the value of protecting and maintaining the Box Gum Grassy Woodlands ecological community, we expect the project will produce the evidence that farmers need to justify investment in the management of the natural assets on their farms and to track progress towards targets, such as restoration projects.
The ecosystem accounting being used in this study is an international system of integrating environmental and economic information that aims to incorporate the values of ecosystem assets and services into mainstream decision-making for land management at all levels, including individual landholders, corporations, local, state and national governments.
Sustainable Farms aims to investigate the relationship between sustainable farming, financial outcomes, and mental health outcomes in more depth.
Farm life is often demanding and hectic, which can make it stressful. Some common sources of stress for farmers include financial pressures, red tape, family and relationship pressures, and environmental hardship (such as drought, floods, and bushfire). On top of this many farmers live in isolated places, which can make it harder to access support when feeling stuck, stressed or down. While there are many good resources out there (click here for a list of services), the reality is that farmers often rely more on themselves, their family and their land for support during tough times.
The Healthy Farmers research theme is led by Phil Batterham from the Centre for Mental Health Research (ANU). Phil and his team have extensive experience in community research and intervention studies. They have led research on the role of internet-based programs for preventing and treating depression, anxiety and suicide in the Australian community. Their work has demonstrated that the internet can be an effective and efficient way to administer therapy and provide support to people who have limited access to clinical services. By better understanding how and why people seek help for mental health problems, their research is identifying pathways for individuals to access appropriate care regardless of time and place. Access to services is a particular challenge in rural areas. Phil’s research team collaborates with regional health services, people who have a lived experience of mental illness and community groups. Together, they aim to identify solutions to prevent mental illness across the lifespan, and to provide better treatments for people who experience mental health setbacks.
Sustainable Farms believes that managing land in a more sustainable way can help by dealing with some of the stresses of farming. Research has shown that environmental degradation is associated with depression, and there is some anecdotal evidence that engaging with sustainable farming methods is associated with better wellbeing (which generally refers to a person’s health, as well as their economic and social wellbeing more broadly). In other words, building resilience on the land against the effects of climate change, natural disasters, and environmental degradation by using sustainable farming methods might improve farmer wellbeing and mental health outcomes (which generally includes mental health symptoms and disorders). Moreover, farmers with robust mental health might be more profitable and vice-versa.
Twenty years of continuous ecological research undertaken on 270 farms provides Sustainable Farms with a unique data set that can be used to explore these possible links between farm ecology and mental health.
To discover these links we are inviting landholders who have been part of the Conservation and Landscape group’s ecological research to participate in a survey, as part of the FarmWell Longitudinal Study, that will assess farmer wellbeing and mental health. The responses to this survey will help us to analyse this unique data set, combining ecological data, remote sensing data and self-report data. We believe this study will provide a better understanding of the relationships between environmental management, and mental health, and inform the development of tools that can assist farmers in these areas down the track.
In addition to this survey our researchers are also working on:
- A collaboration with Dr Jacki Schirmer, from the University of Canberra, to examine findings from the Regional Wellbeing survey.
- A geospatial analysis to map various aspects of the relationship between farming practice, socioeconomic indicators and mental health outcomes across Australia
Results from this research will become available in late 2020.
Sustainable Farms is excited to announce a new research collaboration with eminent Australian economist Bruce Chapman. The research project is currently in a development phase, but the plan is to investigate and evaluate existing financial products or tools that are used by farmers and seek to explain and evaluate different financial instruments and approaches to support investment on farms.
More information will be provided on this website, but in the meantime please sign up to our mailing list to find out more.