A four-year project working with 50 farms across NSW, Victoria, and Tasmania to find nature's value in farming operations has been launched on Wednesday. The Farm-scale Natural Capital Accounting project tool allows farmers to help manage and improve performance while maintaining biodiversity on their properties. The project is an accounting framework that measures and reports on the stocks and flows of all elements of the natural environment, like soil, minerals, grass and native animals on farms. Lead researcher from La Trobe University Associate Professor Jim Radford said it was the first time a whole-of-farm natural capital accounts had been produced "from different geographic\\ locations across a range of farming sectors". "What we've done in this research project is define the methods and structure, and then report on the natural capital at a farm scale," Dr Radford said. "Increasingly, there's a requirement for companies, retailers [and] manufacturers to demonstrate their reliance and their impacts on what's called climate and nature-related dependencies." He said the project demonstrated that it was "possible to generate detailed, comprehensive farm-scale environmental accounts". In June, the federal government released a consultation paper proposing mandatory natural capital accounting for most businesses. The practice has been gaining global momentum, while in Australia, benchmarking projects by Landcare Farming took place earlier this year, while mining giant BHP also piloted a natural capital accounting case study. But Dr Radford said a lot more research work, support, and infrastructure are needed at a local agricultural level, and most environmental economic accounts were generated at an immense scale. "It's really hard for an individual or family farmer or even some corporate farms to grapple with because what they're seeing on the ground isn't reflected in those high-level national data sets," he said. "A challenge in generating national accounts in the agriculture sector, for example, is [whether] we scale up ... [and] aggregate hundreds of farm scale natural capital accounts, and I would say that there's an argument to say, yes, we should do that." "Or, do we do it top-down and provide an overview of the agricultural landscape as a whole that misses a lot of what's happening on the ground at farm scale?" Dr Radford said farmers right now were finding natural capital to be a valuable tool. "Obviously, I wouldn't be pushing these accounts if I didn't think there was a future for the accounts, and we think that there's a very bright future for them," he said. One participant in the project was commercial sheep farmer Sarah Barrington, Apsley, Tasmania. She said she took part in the project to get a greater understanding of her local natural capital. "We had a pretty good grasp on some areas of the farm, but not all of it, and it was just a good opportunity to sort of get a snapshot of what we've got," she said. "We were also attracted to the fact that there were experts in their field doing the work, so I knew that it was going to be rigorous and run well." The project identified almost 25 per cent of Australia's bird species across the participating farms, including 34 threatened species. Ms Barrington said it was essential to recognise the vast nature that existed on properties that were found through the research. "I was quite amazed that we found 53 bird species here through the project, and we're not really a big farm," Ms Barrington said. "We've had 'snippet surveys' but never ever a comprehensive bird survey here on our property, so that was, for me personally exciting." Ms Barrington said she now could prove to others that she was achieving good environmental results on-farm. While she said her data didn't "necessarily mean it's right or wrong data," it allowed transparency to align with the wool brands she regularly works with. "It's not good enough now just to say it, you have to prove it and I think this is another opportunity to get concrete data to show people where we were at," she said. Another participant of the program was the Tiverton Agriculture Impact Fund, which oversees and manages Orana Park, Serpentine. The fund's chief operating officer, Matt Davis, said the seven-property diversified farm includes rotated broadacre cropping, 300 hectares of irrigation, 100 hectares of olives, and a sanctuary. "Right from the start, we have had an interest in what our soils are doing, what our crops are doing, what the biodiversity in general is doing on the property," Mr Davis said. "What the natural capital accounts have really done is sort of pulled all of that information together." He said he could now quantify accounts and report to stakeholders and new investors about the farm's viability. "Obviously we want to make a profit, but ultimately, they want to see a farm be able to generate those returns, whilst at the same time protecting natural capital assets," he said. "But it's also not just protecting those assets, it's aiming to make them better."