Most cane farmers, in fact most farmers in Queensland, have experienced some form of friction with members of the wider community about their activities. It might be that they’ve created noise or dust, or operated machinery outside of daylight hours. It may have been a fear of chemicals or about livestock, the list of what has triggered a dispute is very long.
The sugar industry is located amongst some of the most populated areas of coastal Queensland and increasing urban sprawl means new residents find themselves next door to a working farm, something they may not have experienced before.
Complaints about our normal, lawful farming activities can be uncomfortable, sometimes costly and even erode a cane farmer’s willingness to keep on farming.
Some conflicts are managed by local council planning schemes and zoning and the State Government has established agricultural land guidelines and planning policies. But while cane farm lands are generally zoned as such, or are part of general rural lands which entitle landowners to use those lands for cane growing purposes, individuals are still facing complaints.
This is why CANEGROWERS is developing a policy around Right to Farm legislation. The right to farm is usually regarded as the desire by farmers to undertake lawful agricultural practices without conflict arising from complaints from neighbours and other land users. They are a form of a statutory shield of protection from complaints about farm activity causing a nuisance.
Right to Farm legislation is not new. While Queensland does not have specific right to farms laws, some other states do. In 2019, the New South Wales Government passed a Right to Farm Act. Tasmanian farmers have long enjoyed the protections afforded by the Primary Industry Activities Protection Act. All 50 US states have some form of right to farm legislation. Many of these laws commenced as far back as 1963. All Canadian Provinces also have right to farm laws.
I have to stress that CANEGROWERS is not promoting legislation to give blanket cover for farmers to do whatever they like. There are already laws that regulate the application of chemicals, the use of fire and the movement of farm machinery and we as farmers need to comply with all of these current rules that are appropriate to agriculture and our activities.
What we are considering is a legislative framework to allow farmers to exercise the quiet enjoyment of going about their own business without having to justify their actions. The only defence we have at present, provided we are complying with the laws and regulations already in place, is that, ‘We were here first’. We need something stronger than that.
CANEGROWERS is now discussing this proposal with other farm organisations to gauge their support. This is an opportunity too for political parties in Queensland to consider and adopt Right to Farm legislation, to stand up for farmers.
I have had many meetings with politicians who say they love farmers. This represents a real opportunity for political parties to back farmers and what we do in a real and practical way, and not just talk about it.