Pesticide and fertiliser use by Australian farmers is among the lowest in the world, according to research which found the nation is leading the way in reducing agricultural land use.
Analysis by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences, or ABARES, concluded the country’s farmers have an internationally enviable record on environmental sustainability.
“On a number of metrics we appear to be as good if not better than a number of major competitors around the world, and also some other major agricultural producers,” the bureau’s Jared Greenville told AAP.
Australia has decreased agricultural land use by 28 per cent since 1970 while more than doubling its production, while land clearing in 2020-21 was 75 per cent lower than it was 20 years ago.
Growers were found to have a better nutrient balance on their land and make greater use of sustainable cropping practices such as no-till.
Researchers compared a range of sustainability credentials for agriculture, including Australia’s chemical use, and then compared that against data from other countries including Canada and the US, China, India, Brazil and Argentina as well as European Union members.
Australia’s nitrogen fertiliser applications are about 90 per cent lower than what is used in the Netherlands, 81 per cent lower than France and 71 per cent lower than the US.
“We’re managing our landscapes and the inputs we’re putting on them, so we’re not leading to excessive runoff,” Dr Greenville said.
The report also found Australia is a global leader in reducing agricultural land use, shifting it into nature conservation since 1970.
China had more than tripled the land it used for agricultural production in the same period, the report said.
Publicly available data was used to compile the report, mostly from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and similar international bodies, and also drew on peer-reviewed academic literature
It also found Australia’s emissions intensities are below average for cereal, cattle and specialist beef production, compared to the major exporters.
The report noted the Australian agriculture sector has already reduced direct emissions by 20 per cent over the past 30 years.
Department of Agriculture deputy secretary Rosemary Deininger said the report provides an evidence base for Australia’s sustainability credentials.
“Being able to demonstrate Australia’s value-add and sustainable agricultural credentials will unlock that extra value and help maintain and enhance market access overseas,” she said.
“It is important for Australia to effectively communicate these strong environmental credentials and continue to build on this strong foundation.”
But conservation group WWF-Australia said while it welcomed the findings that land managed for conservation had increased, the research understates land clearing rates.
Stuart Blanch from WWF said the report fails to mention that eastern Australia remains a deforestation front with more than half a million hectares of forest and woodland bulldozed each year.
“Australia needs a fit-for-purpose national deforestation monitoring program,” Dr Blanch said.
“Beef and sheep exporters face trade barriers into the EU from 2025 under its deforestation regulation that seeks to remove deforestation from supply chains.”