With the right incentives, organic farming could be Australia’s path to a pesticide-free future | Caroline Suggate


Oe are constantly exposed to chemicals in our food, many of which are linked to health problems and have devastating effects on our environment. From endocrine disruptors to PFAS, from plastics to pesticides, how much of these do we want to include in our daily lives?

Globally, Australia is one of the biggest users of pesticides in food production, as Guardian Australia’s recent pesticide survey shows. This is partly due to Australia’s unique farming conditions and methods. But it’s also because Australia has less stringent pesticide standards than much of Europe or the United States.

Organic growers have proven for decades that they can provide sustainable yields of healthy, nutritious food without extensive use of some of the most toxic agricultural chemicals used in intensive farming. The Australian organic industry comprises over 3,000 growers in Australia and covers over 35.3 million hectares of agricultural land, or 9.4% of Australia’s total arable land mass.

The industry is worth over $3.6 billion and growing at around 11% per year. Organic growers across Australia use the best land management practices to produce food that is free of harmful chemicals or residues and that incorporates healthy organic soil systems and builds natural resilience against pests and disease.

Weekend in Australia

The world is looking for transparency and integrity in food. In Europe and the United States, governments are urgently investing in the transition to more sustainable farming practices, including measuring the impact of intensive farming practices on natural ecosystems, such as lakes and rivers. Australian farmers have the opportunity to switch to better land management practices and capture more profitable markets while reducing the impact these harmful chemicals can have on people and the land.

Organic producers run legitimate and profitable agricultural businesses on a large scale, with agricultural producers and ranchers each managing more than 5,000 to 1 million hectares. They do this without using harmful chemicals such as synthetic fertilizers. Rotational and regenerative farming methods reflect the way nature intended food to be grown, not the singular monoculture systems that require high levels of external and potentially harmful chemicals to do what nature cannot do in plants. artificial and intensive agricultural systems.

A measure of success should be affordable, healthy and nutritious local foods that don’t cost the earth (literally). Instead of trying to pursue a $100 billion agricultural sector for the sake of it, Australia should develop a financially and environmentally sustainable agricultural strategy that feeds the country without costing people’s health or the earth’s.

My grandfather, a pioneer farmer, said that it takes more skill and heart to cultivate space with the soil and climate than against it. Organic farming systems work hand in hand with the land without the use of chemicals that can permanently alter our ecosystem.

Let’s measure the success of farming by the profitability and longevity of each hectare of land, giving a measure of the “true cost” of what matters most. Current measures of total return do not provide a true measure of downstream externalities, such as pollution of waterways or contamination of food caused by intensive agriculture.

Instead, let’s expand profitable markets for the high-quality, nutrient-dense foods the world needs.

The organic industry is a leader in integrity in the food and agriculture sector. It has a transparent supply chain with a rigorous testing regime to ensure there are no chemical residues in the organic supply chain.

The Federal Government and the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) need to consider the impact of pesticides on the organic industry. What happens when an organic grower’s land is contaminated with spray drift? This is an ongoing existential risk to organic production systems without the right protections in place.

It is imperative to have clear regulatory guidelines on the safety, risks and supply of these chemicals for use in all forms of agricultural systems. Will there be regular and ongoing testing of these chemicals and the ability to routinely test to the specified levels required for organic growers and other industries seeking food free of chemical residues?

What if producers instead had an incentive to grow more food with less artificial influence? Or get paid more for cleaner food? Would that change our way of thinking about simple “more is better”?

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