Better planning needed to protect prime farming land

Better planning needed to protect prime farming land

Turn on the news these days and without fail you’ll hear reports on either the cost-of-living crisis or the housing crisis, or both.

In many respects they are related. Prices are going up and whether it’s buying groceries or paying rent, people are struggling to make ends meet.

For many people, especially in our bigger towns and cities, the great Aussie dream of owning a home on a quarter-acre block is becoming more and more remote.

Remote, not only in the sense of being harder to achieve, but also in the sense that people are having to move further and further from urban centres to make it affordable.

This encroachment into the countryside leads to other difficulties.

Year after year we are seeing prime agricultural land being rezoned and sold-off for housing developments. 

This is particularly noticeable in our coastal communities, where people want to live within driving distance of urban centres while also enjoying the idyllic rural setting.

But the reason this setting is so idyllic is that farmers have been growing crops on these prime agricultural lands for generations. 

When land is rezoned and sold off for housing, farmers can’t simply pack up and grow their crops elsewhere.

Unlike housing, which can be built almost anywhere, farmers need productive soil, consistent rainfall, infrastructure, and in the case of sugarcane, proximity to a sugar mill.

And it isn’t just housing developments that are an issue. The use of prime farming land for largescale renewable energy projects such as solar and wind farms is a rapidly increasing problem.

We have plenty of marginal land, where growing crops is not feasible. There is no reason why councils should be allowing housing developments or solar projects to take prime agricultural land out of production.

There is no doubt we need to address the housing crisis and that means building more houses, especially if we want our regional communities to thrive. And renewable energy is an increasingly important part of our energy security.

But we also need food and fibre. We need the jobs and income that agriculture generates in our regions. We need to make sure farming survives and thrives.

We can have both, but only if our councils are wiser and more selective when it comes to their zoning and development strategies.

With local elections just weeks away, I would encourage readers to ask their local candidates how they intend to ensure our housing and energy needs are met without hurting the farming sector that has supported our communities for generations.