While climate risk was the agenda for the annual conference of the farmers think-tank, the Australian Farm Institute, the Minister for water resources, drought, rural finance, natural disaster and emergency management stuck to biodiversity in his main address to the audience of 160 agricultural stakeholders and farmers.
Opening the conference, AFI executive director Richard Heath said in 1941 his grandfather wrote a letter to The Land extolling the need for soil conservation.
"Australian agriculture has always faced risks around climate and conservation," he said.
"In my grandfathers soil example, we dealt with those risks, we went to contour banks, strip farming and no-till.
"This conference is themed as if I were writing that letter to The Land today, what are the existential risks to agriculture and how can we deal with them.
"We are unashamedly focusing on climate risk."
In his main address, Minister David Littleproud said farmers profit and loss was intrinsically linked to the environmental stewardship of their land, however implied agriculture still needed to prove its place as part of an environmental solution.
"One of the signature pieces I announced at the budget was a biodiversity stewardship program," he said.
"I've asked the Australian National University and the National Farmers Federation to give me the methodology to be able to go to the environment minister and to be able to say we deserve a seat at the Climate Solutions Fund, a $2 billion fund."
Minister Littleproud said the methodology, expected to be produced within the next twelve months, would need to go beyond carbon abatement schemes, calling them a "blunt instrument" with "unintended consequences".
"In my own electorate large tracts of land have been bought up with low capital cost and they have been locked up and not managed," he said.
"We should have a more sophisticated program, one that improves biodiversity and farmers management, one that rewards our farmers."
Minister Littleproud said farmers should be rewarded for environmental stewardship however that he thought this would potentially come through market premiums.
"You should be rewarded financially, not just through a climate solutions fund, but also for the provenance of Australia's food and fibre.
"International markets are looking for this, so what we want to be able to do is give you a biodiversity seal of approval that is internationally and nationally recognised in markets that gives you a premium for your environmental stewardship of your land."
Questions from the floor
Questioned by Mr Heath as to whether drought should remain a standalone policy as opposed to being considered a key risk considered as part of a wider climate policy, Minister Littleproud did not respond to the question directly, instead saying individual farmers were already considering drought and climate scenarios as part of their business planning.
"We are continuing to invest more money into the Bureau of Meteorology, where we are going to have climate catalogues for different areas, so farmers have more granular information," he said.
"It's about equipping people, but I think organically we are getting there, but I'll be honest with you government can't do it all, there has got to be some self responsibility in this, you can't enjoy the fruits of a market economy without the fear of failure.
"Not everyone will get through this drought, and there shouldn't be an expectation the government will get everyone through."
In response to a question from Farmers for Climate Action CEO Verity Morgan-Schmidt about the progress of a national strategy on climate change in agriculture, a policy position advanced during his period as Minister for Agriculture and Water, Minister Littleproud said there was a meeting scheduled for July between the states and Commonwealth to advance a coordinated policy approach.
"We are committed to that," he said.
Farmers will adapt
Minister Littleproud the research and development spend for agriculture added up to nearly $1.1 billion a year, funded through both federal and state governments as well as farmers contributions.
"Since we first put a till in the soil our farming practices have continued to adapt," he said.
"We've continued to make sure we have invested in the tools of the 21st century to be able to provide our farmers the ability to have the science and technology to be able to deliver at the farm gate."
Mr Heath said he hoped a key take home message from the conference was that climate risk was not just about weather.
"It is reaching into so many other areas affecting the farming business and the value chain," he said.
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