As featured in the Tasmanian Country publication 26th August 2022
This week the ABC 7.30 report featured Property Protection Permit (PPP) usage in Tasmania, the TFGA made comment in the story. The report followed the predictable path of emotive storytelling as opposed to a balanced report based on facts and science.
Property Protection Permits (PPP), their use and regulations surrounding them deserve a sensible and non-sensationalist conversation, a conversation based on facts and science. Emotions make great stories yet not always accurate ones. There needs to be a burst of honest reality, recognising the fine balance between economic, social and environmental expectations and imperatives faced on-farm.
Farmers appreciate and value biodiversity and don’t like culling wildlife. Yet the agricultural production systems they manage are a source of food not only to people around the world, but they have increased the availability of food for deer and native wildlife species, enabling populations to escalate to numbers not seen before in many areas.
What would Tasmanian agriculture look like without the ability to control these wild populations? If PPPs were not issued for the top browsing species (deer, wallaby, possums and kangaroos), a conservative estimate of the detriment to gross farm gate value would be over $20 million dollars per year. Greater tracts of land would need to be farmed to produce the same amount of food, fibre and pharmaceuticals, leaving less area undisturbed. Not only would input costs escalate, international competitiveness would be diminished, but so would the cost at the local supermarket checkout.
The purpose of a PPP is to protect agricultural livestock, crops and equipment or infrastructure from damage by wildlife. An owner or land manager must hold a PPP to cull wildlife causing such damage.
Property protection permits are issued under a strictly regulated program, underpinned by evidence and science. Wildlife populations are recorded and monitored, and the results are reported on the NRE website. Permits are only issued if the targeted species is abundant. Each applicant must demonstrate financial loss caused by wildlife damage and outline the full spectrum of control strategies they have in place to manage wildlife, such as game-proof fencing.
Australia’s Environment – 2021 Regional Report Card estimates that 13 per cent of Tasmania’s landmass is used for grazing and modified pasture, while in 2019, 52.8 per cent was tree cover and 58 per cent was described as ‘natural environments’. In short, Tasmania has some of the most productive farmland nationally and globally, yet only 22 per cent is used for farming and more than 50% is native habitat.
Depending on which report you read (and your definition of agriculture), agriculture is one of the top three industries in Tasmania, behind manufacturing and similar value to mining.
The Tasmanian Agri-food ScoreCard 2019–20 estimates food agriculture to be worth $1.810 billion and non-food agriculture (e.g. fibre and pharmaceuticals) at $340 million.
Farming in Tasmania is diverse by nature, but the one thing farmers across all sectors of agriculture currently have in common is increasing input costs. Fertiliser alone is roughly double the price it was two years ago, without considering fuel costs which are impacting everyone.
Tasmania’s farmers invest hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in the myriad of inputs required to produce the everyday things we consume locally, nationally and around the world.
Establishing a high-quality pasture to support milk, lamb or beef production costs about $500/ha. Carrot seed production, to provide the seeds for carrots grown globally, costs as much as $7,000/ha. The green peas you buy in the supermarket cost about $3,174 per hectare to grow.
A TFGA member told me this week that it wouldn’t be unusual to plant a 20ha paddock of peas and to lose 1ha to browsing wildlife — that is with game-proof fencing and a PPP in place. Keep in mind that fence probably cost anywhere $10-$20k per kilometre, depending on the type of fence.
Tasmanian farmers collectively sow thousands of hectares of cereals each year. A local agronomist estimated a typical irrigated wheat crop at the Nile should yield around 8-10 tonnes a hectare, yet he has regularly experienced drops in yield in the order of 4–5 tonnes from browsing animals. While grain prices currently are at record highs of around $430 per tonne, even at pre-covid prices of $330 – $350 per tonne, the loss is considerable.
Farmers and farming are all about balance. The use of regulated and transparent PPPs is just one of many tools farmers use to balance the costs of growing food, fibre and pharmaceuticals at a reasonable price while managing complex ecological systems for the long term.
We also deserve balance in journalism, comparing the pest control practices of a small southern winery (mows their boundary fence to grow grass for wildlife), to the management needs of a large agricultural enterprise growing food, fibre and pharmaceuticals for world is not a reasonable or balanced comparison, just a popular one!