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Victorian Govt unveils new initiative targeted at farmers

With farmers in Victoria facing huge environmental changes and stressors on business management, the Victorian Government has launched a new initiative aimed at giving them the support needed in an effective way.

Presenting at Ozwater’18 on the Victorian Government’s Plan2Farm initiative, Senior Policy Officer with the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning Toni Radcliffe said the program aims to service Victorian farmers with support services in a more personalised and integrated way.

“Victoria has a range of tradition agricultural support programs; Agriculture Victoria can send agriculture specialists out to talk about production systems and cropping practices, and the government provides a range of grants and incentives,” Radcliffe said.

“But these services are not integrated. The community expect government to be effective in getting system-wide environmental and productivity benefits out of water use – so you’ve got to start thinking more broadly.

“For a farmer to be able to make good environmental and productivity decisions, they need to understand where they are going and how much water they need, technology requirements, how they will use their land, timeframes and succession.”

With the rapid-pace changes Victorian farmers currently experience, Radcliffe said the government is focusing on the development of a way to support farmers with varied aspects of business issues.

It aims to help industries remain resilient and profitable, while leveraging opportunities for broader public benefits.

“Farmers in Victoria in general, but particularly in the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District, have had a lot of change over a very short period of time. The millennium drought and Basin Plan, as well as the normal travails of agriculture – water market price changes, commodity price changes and technological shifts – has resulted in a significant reduction in the amount of water available for irrigation,” she said.

“The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning is interested in supporting these communities to adjust, build resilience and keep pace with changes, because the changes are going to continue.”

Radcliffe also said that improving outcomes for farmers while providing public benefits requires a more comprehensive approach to support services, with Plan2Farm working towards achieving this outcome during its four-year trial.

“If you start looking at the farm businesses as a holistic, integrated enterprise, you realise you can get much better gains from investment in support if you manage all the support aspects together,” Radcliffe said.

Plan2Farm is a personalised service provided to each farmer. Each farmer gets an experienced workbook advisor assigned to them, which helps them identify their particular requirements, where they want to go, and then helps them to develop an action plan to get them there.”

According to Radcliffe, a key attribute of Plan2Farm is the partnership model, with government departments, Catchment Management Authorities, water corporations and industry working in alliance to develop and deliver the initiative.

With much of the Goulburn-Murray irrigation district still undergoing modernisation of the irrigation delivery system, Radcliffe said the rollout timing of Plan2Farm and its integration with the Connections Project, which is modernising delivery infrastructure, has offered the department the opportunity to aid farmers in decision making regarding their modernisation needs.

“There are still a lot of farmers in the district going through irrigation modernisation. We’ve been working with the Connections Project to talk to farmers ahead of the modernisation process to help them make decisions about what sort of services they need,” she said.

Furthermore, workbook advisors have received training to help them manage difficult conversations, as early outcomes of Plan2Farm showed that conversations frequently became emotional due to the difficult subject matter.

“Because farming families are sitting down to tough discussions, it’s shining a light on hidden issues. One of the things we have implemented is mental health care training for the advisors,” Radcliffe said.

“They are equipped to direct farmers to appropriate support services, and are also provided with mental health support as well, so that they aren’t taking on the emotional distress from their jobs.”

Hear more from Toni Radcliffe – along with participating farmer Dianne Bowles – about the implementation of the Plan2Farm project: