Keep ag in mind to avoid growing pains

Aug 31, 2023 | Column

IT would take a brave person to argue against building more houses in the midst of the widely-reported housing crisis.

I am not that person. However, what I and the Primary Producers SA policy council do argue is that the planning decision-making framework should pay more attention to the impact of urban developments on agriculture.

Agriculture is critical to the South Australian economy. Its phenomenal output – worth $17 billion – is nothing short of staggering when you realise that just four per cent of SA’s total land mass is arable.

Unfortunately, this small percentage of land is not adequately protected by law.

The impacts of expanding urban development on producers and productivity has been raised in at least three PPSA policy council quarterly meetings over the past 12 months.

For that reason, we feel it is imperative to engage in the process of developing the Greater Adelaide Regional Plan Discussion Paper – which is now out for public consultation – and subsequent drafting of the strategy.

That paper focuses on what Adelaide may look like in 2051, with some projections stating Greater Adelaide’s population could swell by as much as 670,000 people.

It is clear that we need to cater for these projections in both housing and urban infrastructure and that is why PPSA recently met with the State Planning Commission to highlight the competing priorities with land use and the challenges facing agriculture.

While PPSA acknowledges the need for state and federal governments to address a critical housing shortage, we are concerned that the alienation of prime agricultural land – frequently referred to as “greenfield sites” – is impacting upon the state and nation’s food production and security.

Many of those impacted are small and family businesses who simply do not have the skillset to deal with large land developers and government agencies.

Another concern conveyed to the commission was that a significant proportion of the Greater Adelaide area encompasses important rural production areas which are inherently fertile and close to markets and services.

However, this area is also being continually encroached upon – if not engulfed – by urban developments.

Previous growth management strategies have had a significant focus on urban land supply, but not enough attention has been paid to how this affects the region’s rural landscapes.

PPSA wants to engage with the State Planning Commission so we can all learn from past experiences. Farming land is often the easiest to source and cheapest to develop, but this comes at an enormous cost to the wider agricultural industry and Australia’s capacity to produce food.

Look no further than the developments around Mount Barker, Viriginia and Roseworthy to see the impact urban encroachment has on prime agricultural land. These are the experiences we must learn from as we plan for the future.

In 2018, PPSA supported Fleurieu Peninsula producer James Stacey’s Nuffield Scholarship which focused on securing agriculture’s future in peri-urban areas.

One of the key recommendations in his final report, Growing pains: Planning for future development, was that producers need to lobby state and federal governments on the importance of maintaining and preserving viable farming businesses in the near-urban environment and how they can co-exist with a rapidly growing population.

This is exactly what PPSA will continue to do on behalf of producers.

By 2051, the planned growth of Greater Adelaide needs to have provided for the ongoing existence of viable food producers on its doorsteps, that those primary producers are valued and their land use needs are also prioritised.

Their business requirements need to be protected in any development approvals and this critical land cannot be usurped further as a cheap approach to securing “greenfield” sites for more urban development.

This column was written by PPSA Chair Professor Simon Maddocks and first appeared in the August 31, 2023 edition of Stock Journal.

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