Tweed Shire is the northern-most shire of New South Wales, and the largest local government municipality on NSW’s north coast. It is home to approximately 90,000 residents. Its topography is characterized by the Wollumbin and Mt Warning Caldera, creating a patchwork of rainforests, lush pastures and paddocks, river valleys, estuaries, floodplains and beautiful coastlines and beaches. The Tweed has the third highest biodiversity of flora and fauna in Australia, and conserving and enhancing this biodiversity is a key priority of the Council.
Hundreds, if not thousands of generations of the peoples of the Bundjalung Nation have lived in and sustained themselves from the valleys of the Tweed. As elsewhere in Australia, the capacity of Aboriginal peoples to achieve such longevity through millennia carries valuable lessons in sustainable land management and use for current and future generations of Australians.
Agriculture is a principal land use in the Tweed, with the cultivation of sugar cane commencing in the 1860s at Murwillumbah and Cudgen, and the construction of the first mill in Condong in 1880. Commercial banana cultivation commenced in the 1890s, as did the the widespread introduction of dairy cattle. The Tweed Butter Company was established in Murwillumbah in 1897, and the North Coast Co-operative Butter Company establised in 1906, also in Murwillumbah.
Today agriculture in the region is experiencing many challenges, not least an aging profile of producers, a squeeze on profitability and a range of threats including climate change, weeds and pests. Agriculture remains an important part of the local economy, generating $58 million and more than 800 jobs in 2011; and the Council’s vision is to support a diverse, sustainable and thriving farming population and agricultural economy.
Sustainable Agriculture Strategy
With that aim in mind, the Tweed Council embarked on the development of a Sustainable Agriculture Strategy in 2011. Following extensive processes of community consultation and engagement, especially with producers and rural landholders, the Council released its Draft Sustainable Agriculture Strategy on 30 March, 2016. This document was out on public exhibition until 11 May 2016, and it can be downloaded via the link below:
In her introduction to the document, the Mayor of Tweed Shire, Katie Milne, states:
The future of the Tweed will depend upon an agricultural sector providing increasing employment and career opportunities, economic stimulus and stewardship of the natural environment. Sustainable agriculture is good for the environment, profitable and socially responsible. It is the natural resource base that supports community wellbeing and a strong economy – healthy landscapes are productive landscapes.
This is a wonderful synopsis of what we believe is the necessary transition that is now taking place: the recognition that people, landscapes and ecosystems are not separate and divided, but rather are mutually constitutive. That is, ‘humanity’ and ‘nature’ co-constitute and co-produce each other. We will not ‘save the planet’ by fencing ourselves away from it; we are here, we are part of ‘nature’, and the choice we face is how we go about shaping and creating ourselves, our society and the landscapes of which we form part. Do we do this in ways that sustain and nurture ourselves and our cities and regions, or do we continue to do it in ways that are destructive and self-destructive?
That is the challenge the Tweed Shire have embraced in this Strategy, and they have demonstrated important leadership in articulating the role of local government in working cohesively and collaboratively with the whole of the community in bringing about this transition.
Principles Guiding the Strategy
- Enhancing quality of life
- Social and intergenerational equity – enabling the current generation to meet its needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs
- enhancing the environment
- enabling widespread and ongoing participation
- Conserving and restoring productivity and environmental values on farmland
- Remediating past adverse impacts on farmland and the community
- Building capacity through education and stakeholder engagement
- Leveraging funding for strategy delivery
- Prime agricultural land is preserved for sustainable primary production and land-use conflicts are avoided or managed
- Agricultural landscapes are farmed to maintain and enhance the natural resource base with minimal impacts on the environment
- Farmers are well informed and equipped with the skills, knowledge and networks required to farm sustainably
- Local sustainable agricultural production is valued, recognised and promoted by the community with widespread consumption of local products
Key messages from the community
- ‘all Tweed residents have access to fresh, healthy and locally produced food’
- A ‘reinvigorated and thriving agricultural sector dominated by small and family farmers who maintain stronger connections with the wider community’
- Better policies to enable direct sales, such as roadside stalls and ‘more accessible farmers markets’
- ‘On-farm ecosystems enhanced’
The role of Council
Tweed Shire has made it clear that this will not be a Strategy document which consists of mere words. The four Key Outcomes are specified in 10 separate objectives; and the Council has outlined 68 individual actions to implement those objectives.
Some of the actions include:
Outcome 1: Protect prime agricultural land
- Ensure all available actions to prevent coal-seam gas activities on prime agricultural land
- Promote farm sharing, cooperatives, leasing and other initiatives to make productive and underutilised land available for sustainable agricultural use
Outcome 2: Enhance the natural resource base
- Support and conduct soil conservation projects on farm land in priority catchments
- Help farmers sequester carbon emissions in soils and vegetation by accessing information, technology and funding to improve land management
- Promote practices that increase nutrient retention and recycling on-farm and reduce the loss of nutrients and organic carbon to the environment, including crop rotations, green cane harvesting, stubble retention, sustainable pasture management, livestock effluent re-use and composting
Outcome 3: Equip farmers with skills, knowledge and networks to farm sustainably
- Partner with local schools, tertiary and vocational organisations to provide technical and educational support in sustainable agriculture
- Support initiatives that enable young farmers to access land, including start-up farm programs, a register of landholders requiring share farmers, and connecting young and aspiring farmers with holders of rural land
- Establish a Sustainable Agriculture Roundtable to ensure collaboration on sustainable agriculture initiatives
Outcome 4: Value and promote local consumption of local products
- Help farmers promote and market local products, including support to develop local food marketing and branding initiatives, strengthening links between local growers and local retailers and identifying and removing impediments to local food marketing, distribution and sale
- Promote direct sale options such as farmers markets, farm and roadside stalls, marketing alliances, cooperatives and community supported agricultural schemes
- Collaborate on local and regional food initiatives involving producers, value adders, retailers, consumers and other agencies to address supply chain issues such as the distribution of local produce to local consumers, and food marketing and branding.
Sustain welcomes and commends Tweed Shire and the broader Tweed community on the development of such a visionary Strategy. We look forward to seeing the final version adopted by Council in the next few months.
We are also excited to be working the Sustainable Agriculture Manager of Tweed Council on hosting a one-day conference on local food economies and opportunities for the Tweed and Northern Rivers NSW more broadly, as part of the Community Food Hubs Speaking tour that Sustain is coordinating.