Dear Mr Scully,
I am the former head of Agriculture and Natural Resource and Chief Economist of the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, now Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Science. I have spent over 20 years working on the issues facing Australian farms.
The previous government’s pre-emptive changes to planning on rural land for the stated purpose of assisting farmers to manage financial hardships will not achieve its intent, and in some if not many instances, will create harm to the industry it proports to support.
The argument is simple and direct; farmers cannot compete with developers for the demand for high valued tourism such as glamping and wedding functions. To compete, requires land that has high amenity values, in reasonable proximity to Sydney in terms of travel time and travel on good roads. It would also require smaller scale family farms, that presently tend to be on this land, to divert their time from farm management to serving the public.
Land suitable for high value tourism, peri-urban and residential development has been taking agricultural land out of commercial production for many years. It does so by driving the price of that land out of what can support commercial agriculture.
Unfettered access to more of this land by individuals and companies to cash in on tourism, and it will not be agritourism in any true sense of the term, will continue to fuel this trend.
Farming will be pushed back to land with less amenity value and in most instances, less productive land. On less productive land, farms will need to operate on a larger scale. The natural endowments that give rise to amenity values are the same that support high valued, land-intense agriculture.
Increasing the scale of farm operations involves large capital investments and risk, given the Australian environment. It also pushes farmers off the land. NSW loses about one per cent of it farm population each year, in large part to corporate farms.
Nothing will change the commercial imperative for this to happen, but the planning system should not add to it, particularly in regions that are productive enough to support commercial agriculture on a smaller scale than in the cropping and livestock and irrigation areas of NSW.
This is not to say that high end agritourism is not a good option for some farmers or that taking land out of farming for the purpose of tourism is unacceptable, however it does need to be carefully planned and this type of planning needs to be done a local level.
I will not dwell on the environmental and social issues of taking land use planning away from local governments save to say that without additional funds for councils to enforce reasonable standard the issues will loom large. I will also say that farming is part of the character of the South and North Coast that is worth preserving.
I ask you to support Gareth Ward’s draft Private Members Bill to replace the Agritourism planning provisions introduced in December 2022.