Time for Less Haste and More Thinking

Queensland Farmers Federation’s Stuart Armitage is calling for a government re-think on the protection of high quality agricultural land.

stuart ArmitageMr Armitage says there’s a massive disconnect between the rhetoric from Politicians and their actions as we see more and more moves towards solar farms, gas mining operations, mining and other activities.

“By 2050 Australian agriculture will be expected to share the burden and opportunities that come with feeding an extra two billion people worldwide. We hear it time and again from Industry leaders and politicians about the importance of preserving and expanding our prime agricultural land and assets. But when it comes to protecting high quality agricultural land in regional planning schemes and for developments we see the opposite.”

Mr Armitage says the misalignment of governments’ stated agricultural aspirations and the realities of the continued acquisition of prime cropping and grazing land to meet with the proposed expansion of the state’s gas fields in to new Basins; the planned Department of Defence expansion in north Queensland; and the planning issues associated large-scale solar photovoltaic facilities are just a few.

“Examples of approved solar farms on ‘Class A’ agricultural land have included a 340 ha solar farm at Clare in the Burdekin; a 5,375 ha solar farm at Bulli Creek near Millmerran; and a 180 ha solar farm near Childers.”

solar power plant“The fact that the Clare solar farm is in an Important Agricultural Area and within the Burdekin Haughton Water Supply Scheme, which the Queensland Government has invested significantly in to support and expand agriculture in the region, amplifies this disconnect.”

The issue of incompatible neighbouring land uses on agricultural productivity has come to the fore through planning associated with large-scale solar photovoltaic facilities.

Mr Armitage says these solar farms are currently assessed by local government under planning schemes, and do not trigger an assessment under the Regional Planning Interests Act 2014, even if in an area of regional interest such as a Priority Agricultural Area or Strategic Cropping Area.

“The impact of solar farms on the productivity of the underlying agricultural land is not well understood. However, the long-term nature of solar farm infrastructure – typically 30 years – means the land is converted to a non-agricultural use for the life of the project.”

tractor-plowing-field“There has also been little consideration of the impacts to neighbouring agricultural land including sediment run-off, impacts from the ongoing removal of vegetation and the heat island effect.”

Mr Armitage says increasing development in regional Queensland must remain a priority for governments at all levels through a mix of sectors.

“Large-scale renewable energy projects in regional areas benefit not just those communities, but communities globally as we seek to decarbonise the economy. Early identification and zoning of low-quality, non-agricultural land must be prioritized to ensure certainty for projects and land-owners.”

“Only when we find a balance between these competing regional land uses will government be able to realize its agricultural aspirations into the future.”