State Government's further push to protect farmland

There's a further State Government push to protect Melbourne's significant agricultural land


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Public comment is being sought on protection of Melbourne's farmland

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MOVE CAREFULLY: Victorian Farmers Federation Horticulture group president Emma Germano has urged the government to move cautiously, on new agricultural planning laws.

MOVE CAREFULLY: Victorian Farmers Federation Horticulture group president Emma Germano has urged the government to move cautiously, on new agricultural planning laws.

The State government is seeking public comment on ways it can better protect Melbourne's green wedges and agricultural land, against overdevelopment.

The government has asked communities, councils, farmers and agricultural industries, around Melbourne's green wedge and peri-urban areas to help identify and protect what is says is vital agricultural land.

Read more: Government introduces landmark planning reforms

"We said we would protect Melbourne's unique green wedges and that's exactly what we're doing," Planning Minister Richard Wynne said.

"Once these areas are gone, they're gone forever - it's important we carefully assess these areas and preserve them for future generations."

He said it the government was undertaking a comprehensive review of outer-suburban and peri-urban land - which would improve land use and assist decision-making.

The government had been undertaking technical work in partnership with Agriculture Victoria and Deakin University, to provide an evidence base to inform criteria for identifying strategic agricultural land.

This included compiling information on soils, landscapes, access to water, climate and versatility of land and under different climate futures.

Consultation paper

The information is contained in a consultation paper, which looks at three areas of land use:

Strategic agricultural land: Areas of land identified from a combination of features including soils, landscapes, rainfall, access to water, resilience to climate change, infrastructure investment and integration with industry, that make it highly valuable for agricultural production.

Green wedge: The non-urban areas of metropolitan Melbourne that are currently protected by laws and include agricultural areas, bushland, water supply areas, tourism and recreation use, natural resources and other non-urban uses.

Peri-urban areas: land beyond the green wedges but within 100 km of central Melbourne. The areas are predominantly rural with small townships.

Mr Wynne said the work delivered on Plan Melbourne 2017-2050 and ensured that green wedge and peri-urban areas were carefully planned and managed, to avoid irreversible land-use change and support their ongoing productivity.

Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning executive director, planning implementation, Nick Joveski, said Melbourne's food bowl had many competitive advantages, such as access to quality soils, recycled water, infrastructure and labour forces.

But he said that also brought real challenges.

"Proximity to Melbourne has led to increased competition for land, inflated prices and increasing land use conflicts, and agriculture is highly exposed to the impacts of climate change," Mr Joveski said.

"As our climate changes, it is vital we identify the best land to support food production for our growing city."

He said the project would assess what land, around Melbourne, had the greatest agricultural potential, taking into account factors such as fertile soil, access to quality water, suitable climate and good quality infrastructure.

"Once we have determined the criteria, stronger planning controls will be developed to protect agricultural land around Melbourne, giving greater certainty to agricultural businesses to support long term growth, investment and innovation," Mr Joveski said.

"It is critical we get the planning right now for the long term, which is why we are working with the community and stakeholders to seek local knowledge to inform the criteria and planning response."

The resulting common set of criteria, against which to assess all green wedge and peri-urban agricultural land, would enable a clear understanding of priority areas that needed to be supported for the future.

It would complement new land use definitions and associated planning controls for animal industries, introduced last year.

A DELWP spokesman said legislation provided greater certainty for primary producers to farm, and included new definitions and controls for grazing animal production, intensive animal production, pig and poultry farms and poultry hatcheries.

"In addition, this project will investigate how this right to farm legislation could be further strengthened in areas that have been identified as strategic agricultural land, in accordance with actions outlined in Plan Melbourne," the spokesman said.

Move cautiously

But Victorian Farmers Federation Horticulture Group president Emma Germano urged the government to move cautiously.

She said many farmers had planned around potential urban encroachment, and what that meant over time.

"There are some areas, where it is not viable to farm," Ms Germano said.

"We need a plan, and I just hope there is enough sensitivity to the fact different areas operate differently.

"It absolutely has to be an area by area approach; otherwise the government will fail, or at least upset a lot of people."

She said farmers needed certainty as to rezoning, for many years into the future, so they could plan accordingly.

"In some places, the ship has already sailed, but in other places, definitely, there needs to be that level of protection," Ms Germano said.

"It's a lot more complex than 'we need a food bowl around Melbourne' - I hope the government understands that."

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