Family farmers are banding together to showcase the climate action they are investing in, speaking directly to the community’s growing concerns about global warming and environmental sustainability.
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Tess Butler in the milking shed on her dairy farm in West Gippsland, Victoria.

The Telling Our Story campaign from the National Farmers Federation will involve farmers making and sharing videos on social media and follows the ‘code red’ warning from the United Nation’s climate report last week and comes amid a confusing public policy debate within the federal government.

The Prime Minister wants to reach net zero emissions “as soon as possible” but is yet to sign off on a deadline. Some rural representatives such as Agriculture Minister David Littleproud and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce want to wait until they reach an agreement on a comprehensive emissions reduction plan, and others like Senator Matt Canavan oppose emissions reduction targets.

Aiming to cut through the politics, farmers are telling their stories to highlight to consumers the investments they are making to reduce agricultural emissions and boost environmental sustainability.

Farmer Tess Butler, who runs 900 jersey cows with her partner Ben and three-year-old son Will at their West Gippsland dairy, is telling her story as part of the campaign.

“We need to let our consumers know we are meeting their expectations, and we need to be held accountable as well,” Ms Butler said.

“We all have a responsibility to address climate change. The farming industry generates a substantial amount of greenhouse emissions and we have a social responsibility to decrease those.”

Ms Butler has done significant work to boost natural habitat and reduce emissions, including an effluent management system to irrigate their paddocks and recycling nutrients. Ms Butler is also investigating bacteria treatments that could help trap carbon in the treatment process.

She have established a grazing system to promote strong grass growth so cows have consistent access to nutritious feed, which promotes more efficient milk production to reduce emissions, as well as improving the genetics of their herd with selective breeding to produce more productive cows.

“We are also using unproductive parts of our farm to bring back native vegetation and fencing off areas for planting,” Ms Butler said.

Tess Butler in the milking shed on her dairy farm in West Gippsland, Victoria. 
Tess Butler in the milking shed on her dairy farm in West Gippsland, Victoria. 

Australia exports 70 per cent of its agricultural produce, which means most farmers’ produce could be subjected to environmental standards imposed by multinational companies, or tariffs set by wealthy nations to ensure a level playing field for their farmers who must comply with binding emissions reduction targets.

The National Farmers’ Federation has set a target for net zero emissions by 2050. Industry peak lobby group GrainGrowers has endorsed the NFF’s plans and committed to develop a grain-specific target for 2030 within the next 18 months. The red meat sector set a goal in 2017 to reach net zero by 2030.

A community survey for the federation found 21 per cent of Australians strongly believed farmers were committed to improving their sustainability, 44 per cent somewhat agreed and 17 per cent were neutral.

“Our message to the community is that farmers are getting on with this stuff, they’ve already changed their practices and will continue to in the future,” said National Farmers Federation chief executive Tony Mahar.

“It’s become part of the business requirements to demonstrate sustainability,” he said. “Practices such as rotational grazing, zero soil disruption when planting a crop and the conversion of livestock effluent to renewable energy have seen Australian agriculture reduce its direct greenhouse gas emissions by 65 per cent between 2004-05 and 2016-17.”

Victorian scientists in Australia will be working on methods to reduce the environmental footprint of the Australian dairy cow and to create a more profitable and sustainable dairy sector.

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