23 February 2024

Value of Canberra's agriculture and food production under the microscope

| Claire Fenwicke
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market stall selling fruit and vegetables

The Capital region’s food production and supply chains will be examined as part of a new study. Photo: Capital Region Farmers Market.

The future of agriculture policy in the ACT will be informed by a new study into agriculture production and food systems in the ACT and local region.

There are fewer than 200 farms in the ACT and rural land accounts for about 15 per cent of land across the Territory – almost equivalent to the area covered by urban Canberra.

The ACT Government has contracted economic consultant Natural Capital Economics for $178,000 to deliver the study, which aims to gather baseline information about the local food system.

Environment, Parks and Land Management Minister Rebecca Vassarotti said it was part of a new approach from the government to now consider local food production as an important part of Canberra being a liveable, affordable and climate-resilient city.

“This study is ultimately about what we grow, where we’re growing it and why we’re growing it in the ACT,” she said.

“We are really focussed on what this means for our local community, how we can actually produce food locally that is more affordable, that is close to where it’s grown and provides a great opportunity to not only grow their own food but get to know local producers.

“Armed with this knowledge, our aim is to provide opportunities for farmers to expand their local produce operations in the Territory and connect Canberrans with local growers directly.”

It’s the first act under the draft Canberra Food Strategy, and will also consider current supply chains and how to develop the bush food and traditional plant industry.

Ms Vassarotti said this would help inform future policy and show where work needed to be focussed.

“Detailed local information is vital to help us reach our goals of increased local food production, better access to fresh, affordable local food for Canberrans, and greater climate resilience,” she said.

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It’s the latest in a number of announcements for agriculture in the ACT.

A new water rebate has been jointly funded with the Commonwealth Government for rural leaseholders to install, repair or replace water infrastructure for livestock or permanent horticultural plantings, such as olives, grapes, truffles and orchards.

The On Farm Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebate Scheme has been designed to help farmers and graziers prepare for climate change and natural disasters.

It can’t be used for the construction of new dams or modifying existing dams.

The government also recently published its first drought resilience plan for the Canberra region.

It’s been developed thanks to funding from the Australian Government Future Drought Fund and aims to give local rural land managers the tools to be best placed to respond to future droughts.

Consultation has already been underway with local rural leaseholders and now the Canberra community has been asked for feedback as well.

“Our new drought resilience plan been developed using the latest climate projections to prepare the Territory for future drought seasons,” Ms Vassarotti said.

“It will help us to build defences and manage future drought risks across the region’s agriculture sector.”

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Agriculture in the ACT has been a hot topic for some, with a group of Majura Valley farmers stuck in limbo over their rural land leases.

They’ve been unable to be updated because some parts of their land are owned by the ACT, and other parts by the Commonwealth.

The government was challenged about whether it would uphold the promised 25-year lease with no withdrawal clause (offered in August, 2022) during the February sitting week.

Planning Minister Chris Steel said it was still waiting on the Federal Government to complete its due diligence processes.

The final Canberra Region Local Food Strategy 2024-28 will be released later this year.

Feedback on the draft drought resilience plan closes on 14 March, while applications for the On Farm Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebate Scheme close at 5 pm on Monday, 8 April.

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A study into farming hey. Yeah that’ll work. What land isn’t congested with packed flats and townhouses will be covered in solar panels.

Fewer than 200 farms in the ACT yet the government paid $178,000 for the study? And the results will just be a ChatGPT generated rant about climate change? Please someone commission me do to a study on farming in the Sahara desert!

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