Returns from conservation farming are healthy

Recent evaluations of public investments into agricultural research and development by NSW Department of Primary Industries have shown that the returns were relatively healthy.

One evaluation of 30 years of conservation farming and reduced tillage R&D for dryland cropping industries in north-west NSW considered benefits to the grains industry and society, and public costs, up to 2002 and projected to 2020.

The benefit cost ratio and net present value from adoption of no-till, and no-till plus conservation farming and reduced tillage up to 2020 were estimated to be 9:1 and $568 million respectively.

In 2001 the adoption rates of no-till and no-till plus reduced tillage technologies for crop production within seven north-western Local Government Areas was 24 and 47 per cent respectively.

There are potential improvements in farm-level profits, compared to traditional tillage systems.

However, the comparative economics of different technologies are not the only issues that farmers consider when thinking about change.

Other factors likely to be important are the ease of adopting new technology, whether there are whole-farm effects to consider, and whether the change is consistent with farmer attitudes and social values.

These are important issues which affect the rate of change in management and technology use.

A better understanding of the adoption process for more sustainable farming practices will be of significant benefit to Catchment Management Authorities (CMAs).

CMAs in NSW are new players with a mandate, a budget, and a timetable to achieve environmental improvements at the catchment level over a 10-year time frame.

The previous private-benefit focus for encouraging individual farmers to adopt new technology is now being augmented by their activities aimed at catchment-wide change, and activities which do not necessarily rely on a profit improvement as a prompt for change.

This is a new situation in which to consider the process of adoption of conservation farming practices.

Further information

Contact: Bob Farquharson, Tamworth on 61 2 6763 1194 or bob.farquharson@dpi.nsw.gov.au.