EMSA Beginnings

The EMS Association was formed following a series of four EMS in Agriculture conferences held in Australia between 1999 and 2005. At the 4th conference held in Beechworth, Victoria, the majority of delegates called for the establishment of an entity to enable recognition of EMS as a discipline and coordinate the bi-annual conference and other activities. 

The association was formalised by attendees at an open meeting held at the Rural Industries Research & Development Corporate in Canberra on 22 June 2006. Some of these people agreed to taking on the responsibilities of incorporating the association and getting the legal, financial and administrative tasks addressed.

The inaugural committee comprised people who had a long involvement and history with EMS in Australia. They came from diverse backgrounds, including industry, government, research and the private sector. Read their profiles.

Outcomes from EMS in Agriculture Conference, Beechworth, 17-20th October 2005

Group responses

17 groups provided feedback at the conference.

The stakeholders represented in these groups are as below:

  • Australian Landcare Management Systems (1%)
  • Medical services (1%)
  • Farmers/ landowners (17%)
  • Government (22%)
  • Research / universities (5%)
  • Consultants (5%)
  • Organic (1%)
  • Auditors (1%)
  • Manufacture / processor (3%)
  • Training / education (3%)
  • Farmer / industry groups (23%)
  • R&D corporations
  • Investors / financial (4%)
  • CMAs (8%)
  • Community / Landcare (3%)

Groups identified the following key barriers to the adoption and implementation of EMS in Australian agriculture over the next 1-3 years:

At present there is either an actual, or perceived lack, of market drivers, and/or benefits. This was also expressed in concerns about costs (either actual, or through time spent), and a fear of difficulty in developing EMSs. A lack of recognition for EMS users was blamed in some cases, with some groups stating that the community did not value NRM work done by farmers, and that there were few, if any industry or other EMS champions who were very visible. A lack of industry support and promotion was identified by some groups, while others expressed this as a lack of landholder motivation. The need for clear goals and distinct links between on-farm actions and catchment health/NRM improvements, in addition to a means by which to provide recognition for EMS were also seen as barriers. Importantly, a number of groups commented on the difficulties created by lack of linkages and easy communication about EMS, poor access to tools to support, little extension support, a lack of continuity in EMS support and funding, and finally, little or no analysis and reflection on EMS implementation to date, by agencies, funding bodies and industry groups.

Poor communication and information sharing, as well as critical analysis of work done so far were the most commonly nominated barriers.

Key opportunities identified for EMS were:

  • building partnerships and linkages between farmers and others (including Landcare)
  • integrated management systems
  • using ‘good news’ stories (especially by farmers about farmers) and EMS demonstrations
  • rewarding good practices (linked with credible auditing), growing market requirements for stewardship
  • increased communication
  • better organised and effective funding for EMS
  • expansion of EMS extension services
  • coordination of EMS roles and work
  • agreement on definitions and a common understanding of EMS
  • expended industry leadership
  • consolidation of the range of EMS experience to make it available to all users
  • use of EMS as a platform to access NRM funding
  • increasing awareness and response to climate change through EMS
  • development of an agreed national approach
  • validation and development of the ‘clean, green image’
  • provision for farmers to engage consumers/reconnect growers with consumers
  • alignment of systems and a national ‘audit’ of systems
  • the use industry groups could make of EMS to demonstrate their commitment to sustainable agriculture.

Communication and information sharing would appear to be an essential ingredient in the mix, and were seen to offer great possibilities to enhance EMS development.

In responses to the question “Is there a need for national coordination for EMS and related environmental activities in Australian agriculture”, 82% of the groups responded Yes, with 2 groups (12%)saying ‘No’. A final group responded that stated that ‘it depends’, with no further explanation. Specific areas of coordination mentioned by the groups included communication, certification/auditing and recognition, standards development, EMS facilitation, development of principles, leadership (in particular of industry) and EMS support.

When asked if the current implementation of the EMS Framework adequately met the need for coordination the responses was 94% saying “No”, with 4 groups indicating that they were completely unaware of the document. In the one group responding “Yes”, it was suggested that there was a need for a ‘user-friendly’ version of the existing document. Suggestions offered by the groups about what was needed were:

  • that we have moved on from the Framework document, and that it should be updated
  • that there was a need for awareness raising, education, coordination and communication about EMS
  • that a national annual forum be held for sharing of information and experience about EMS.

Two groups also observed that there was a perception that the Framework had little to do with industry, and was ‘owned’ only by government.

Crucial roles and tasks needed to ensure EMS was better coordinated in Australia were:

  • Communication, particularly of ‘good news’ and examples of EMS users and outcomes
  • Use of industry champions
  • Increased farmer involvement in discussing issues
  • A clear direction for agriculture to follow – particularly with regard to community expectations for environmental outcomes
  • Coordination across industry and government
  • Research and technical support systems
  • Government to facilitate implementation, provide resources/support
  • Industry to prepare Action Plan for sustainable agriculture, and provide leadership
  • Educators to raise awareness, integrate EMS into existing management systems
  • Processors to provide market intelligence regarding drivers
  • Government and industry to work out policy
  • Standards defined for issues across industries/catchments by government and standards of management defined by industry
  • Governments to define funding and resourcing arrangements, including defining roles and responsibilities
  • Connection of management practices to monitoring
  • Government to provide long-term funding and support to both implement EMS and educate about EMS.

In response to the question “Is there a need for a broad-based network to communicate about EMS direction, policy and research needs” 77% of groups responded ‘Yes’, with a further two groups, while not circling the Yes response, indicating that they thought an active network was needed bringing the Yes response to 88%. 1 group circled ‘No, but then stated that there was a network of practitioners needed, and suggested that while there was already a network in place, it should also be at a ‘lower’ level where landholders could ‘attend to swap ideas. One group did not answer the question Therefore, it appears that there was strong support for the formation of an active network of EMS users to discuss a broad range of topics.

Responses supporting the development of a network all wanted to see the network as a multi-stakeholder development. In several cases it was suggested that government agencies were needed to provide the support and infrastructure to ensure that an on-on-going network could develop. Issues that were suggested for discussion through such a network included EMS tool, methods that ‘work’, learning from existing EMS usage, ‘good news stories’, EMS benefits and outcomes, rather than policy or research issues solely.

Best suggestions made by speaking panel to move EMS forward were:

  • Capturing and promoting the benefits and outcomes of farmers’ use of EMS
  • Increased communication about EMS, including building on knowledge/skills already developed through EMS pilots etc
  • Provision of recognition for EMS farmers and those addressing environmental issues
  • Incorporate EMS into routine farm management approaches
  • The need to stop ‘trialling EMS’ and start a wider roll-out (move from research to extension)
  • Development of a truly national approach/unifying framework for EMS
  • Mechanisms to reduce confusions about EMS
  • A means to increase awareness of environmental issues and regulations to address these
  • Development of incentives and recognitions systems
  • A review of current the EMS framework and arrangements
  • Use of a truly national Framework
  • Maintenance of momentum/enthusiasm after NHT/NAP funding in 2008
  • Using EMS to identify what society wants from agriculture
  • Identification of commonality between tools
  • Leadership and industry investment is needed
  • Linkages to landscape management
  • Increase use of GIS into EMS

Several groups included statements similar to “we have enough experience and trials – we now need to support practitioners and ‘get on with it’”.

Other areas that needed to be addressed to assist with EMS development were: extension, provision of support, development of better networks, web-based resources, a means of ‘inspiring’ the next group of people to move into EMS, more opportunities for EMS communication, training and leadership and NRM targets that could fit between catchment level and on-farm levels.