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Drivers for uptake of environmental management systems (EMS) by pastoralists in western Queensland

L.I. Pahl1,5, L.Z. Weier2, N.M. Sallur3, A.L. Bull3 and B.M. Howard4.

1Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries. PO Box 102, Toowoomba, Qld, 4350
Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries. PO Box 519, Longreach, Qld, 4730
Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries. PO Box 282, Charleville, Qld, 4470
URS Australia Pty. Ltd. Level 3, Hyatt Centre, 20 Terrace Rd, East Perth, WA, 6004
Corresponding author. Email:


Pastoralists from 37 cattle and/or sheep properties in western Queensland developed and implemented an environmental management system (EMS) over a period of 18 months. The EMS implemented by them was customised for the pastoral industry, and staff from this project encouraged and assisted pastoralists during this trial. Participating pastoralists identified few benefits of EMS implementation, and these were largely associated with environmental management and sustainability. In the future, they would be encouraged to adopt EMS by financial incentives, a range of market benefits, improved property and environmental management, assistance with red tape issues, access to training opportunities and assistance and support with the development of their EMS. However, these drivers are currently weak, and are not motivating pastoralists to adopt EMS. In contrast to this, barriers to adoption such as the time involved in developing and implementing EMS are tangible and immediate. Given a lack of effective drivers and that pastoralists are under considerable pressure from ongoing rural adjustment processes, it is not surprising that EMS is a low priority. It is concluded that widespread uptake and on-going use of EMS in the pastoral industry will not occur unless pastoralists are required and/or rewarded for this by markets, governments, financiers, and regional natural resource management bodies.

Key words

benefits, evaluation, pastoral industry, survey, implementation, environmental management systems


Trials of EMS implementation in intensive agricultural sectors in Australia have reported benefits such as input cost savings, increased awareness of risks, better business management, improved human health and safety, and improved natural resource condition (Carruthers 2003; URS 2005). In comparison, while extensive sheep and cattle pastoralists in the Australian rangelands were attracted to EMS because of its international recognition, they found it time consuming and frustrating (Taylor 2001; Banney 2002).

This paper reports some of the key findings of an EMS trial in western Queensland. Over a period of 18 months, pastoralists from 37 properties implemented EMS with assistance from staff of the Pastoral EMS pilot project (Pahl et al. 2006). This project was one of 15 projects funded as part of the EMS National Pilot Program1. The EMS implemented was customised for use in the pastoral industry and consisted of the following seven elements: environmental policy, risk assessment, objectives and targets, action plans, implementation, monitoring and management review. Together, these elements formed a continuous improvement cycle (Sallur et al. 2007).

All participating pastoralists were cattle and/or sheep producers. Their large properties (up to 100,000 hectares) were mainly family-owned and operated, contained large numbers but low densities of livestock, utilised minimal agricultural inputs, and only employed casual staff or contractors for labour intensive activities such as shearing, branding and mustering (Pahl 2003).

This paper identifies the benefits and drivers of EMS uptake as reported by this group of pastoralists, and describes the likely future uptake of EMS within the pastoral industry.


The sheep and cattle pastoralists involved in this research on EMS were located in the mulga woodlands and Mitchell grass downs of western Queensland (see Figure 1). During this study, the main methods used to record pastoralist views on the benefits, drivers and barriers to EMS implementation were a management review and an end-of-project survey. While pastoralists from 37 properties were implementing EMS at the time this information was collected, a small number were unable to participate in the management review and surveys. The EMS pilot project staff conducted a management review through face-to-face meetings with pastoralists from 32 properties, after they had spent approximately one year developing and implementing their EMS. At the end of the three-year project, pilot project staff used two questionnaires to survey pastoralists from 31 properties through face-to-face meetings during December 2005 to February 2006.

Mulga woodlands near Charleville

Mitchell grass downs near Longreach

Beef cattle in mulga woodlands

Merino sheep in mulga-poplar box woodland

Figure 1. The pastoral region of western Queensland


Management review

A number of pastoralists identified benefits from EMS development and implementation. The description of these benefits suggested that:

  • The risk assessment process improved their knowledge of risks and encouraged action on these;
  • Monitoring and keeping records was valuable;
  • Writing objectives and targets was useful as this provided a clear focus and timeframe to work to;
  • Documented action plans and associated results were a good reference for the future;
  • The planning processes improved communication between husband and wife;
  • The EMS process has prompted some pastoralists to seek out new technical information; and
  • The continuous improvement cycle (Figure 2) provided a good platform to work from and improve particular facets of their business.

Figure 2. The EMS cycle

In comparison, almost all pastoralists interviewed identified barriers to EMS implementation, including:

  • The environmental policy element of their EMS was liked least of all, and they could not see a benefit in writing this;
  • Terms such as risks and causes, action plans and monitoring plans, and objectives and targets were confusing;
  • Major risks were already known, and would have been addressed without EMS;
  • Time was wasted planning and documenting actions, and could be better spent working on them; and
  • Writing plans was painstaking and frustrating, and there was little benefit in writing plans in an environment that was constantly changing.

Survey of pastoralists

Apart from helping to improve their property business management, all of the issues that pastoralists believed EMS had helped them with concerned sustainability and the environment. In contrast to this, the issues that pastoralists believed EMS had not helped them with were reducing production costs, succession planning, improving time management, market benefits, and avoiding more stringent and prescriptive regulatory standards.

When pastoralists were asked to identify the one factor which most influenced their progress with implementing EMS (Figure 3), they responded with drought (9/31), available time (6/31) and assistance from project staff (5/31).

When asked what would encourage them to continue using EMS, the most commonly mentioned factor was financial incentives, followed by market benefits, more assistance from people who could help them develop their EMS, industry support and business management training.

Surprisingly, 27 of the 31 respondents said they would continue to use EMS. When asked why, the two most common reasons were the documentation benefits, particularly to demonstrate to others that they are looking after the environment, and better management leading to improvements in production and the environment. Marketing/financial reward and the structural benefits provided by the EMS process (i.e. goal setting, action plans, records) were also given as reasons for continuing with EMS.

Figure 3. The one factor which most influenced progress with implementing the Pastoral EMS.


While most pastoralists said that they would continue to implement EMS after the pilot project ended, this was doubtful. Most of them were not actively working on their EMS at the end of the project, and when they did, this only occurred with the prompting and assistance from pilot project staff. In addition to this, most seemed to think that because they had written plans, their EMS was complete, and pastoralists that had not implemented their written plans still considered that they had and were using an EMS. Due to this lack of activity it was concluded that few pastoralists would continue EMS implementation.

Benefits of EMS uptake

When surveyed during this study, pastoralists identified a small number of benefits that arose from EMS implementation. These were primarily related to the sustainable and environmental management of their properties, and were similar to the results of other national EMS pilot projects as reported by URS (2006).

In comparison, the 17 Australian and New Zealand farmers interviewed by Carruthers (2005) reported a much wider range of benefits arising from EMS implementation. These included improved financial performance and communication, better neighbourhood/community relations, better yields, reduced input costs, increased market share, and lower levels of risks and liabilities. Of the 17 farmers interviewed, 16 operated intensive farms, while the remaining farm was also a comparatively intensive sheep and cattle property with cultivation.

Similarly, Steger (2000), Halkos and Evangelinos (2002) and Strachan et al. (2003) identified a wide range of benefits that have accrued from EMS implementation in the industrial sectors. These include more efficient use of human and other resources, financial savings, increased innovation, improved awareness of legislation and reduced incidents of non-compliance, reduced liabilities, improved company image and external recognition, improved environmental awareness and performance, increased competitive advantage through use as a marketing tool, increased motivation of employees, and a more transparent and effective organisation. Compared with the low-input pastoral enterprises of western Queensland, the industrial sectors and intensive agriculture both have high levels of inputs, outputs, risks, liabilities and reporting requirements, and they employ more staff, modify landscapes more extensively, need to comply with more regulations, and be more mindful of their immediate neighbours.

Drivers of EMS uptake

The drivers for EMS implementation include the realised benefits described above, and the potential benefits of implementing EMS in the future. When surveyed, pastoralists identified many drivers of EMS uptake. These included improving their property and environmental management, financial incentives, a range of market benefits, assistance with red tape issues, access to other training opportunities and assistance and support with the development of their EMS. These drivers of EMS implementation are similar to those reported in other sectors of Australian agriculture (Ridley 2001; Heisswolf et al. 2003; Carruthers 2005; Seymour et al. 2007).

Again, the more highly geared, larger scale and potentially more environmentally-damaging industrial sectors have additional drivers, including internal business efficiencies, improved investor confidence, reduced incidents and liabilities, improved staff attitudes towards environmental management, more efficient use of staff resources, use of the continuous improvement cycle to develop innovative strategies, and reduced insurance costs (Halkos and Evangelinos 2002; Strachan et al. 2003).

Barriers to EMS uptake

In this study, pastoralists reported that a lack of time was the main factor that limited their development and implementation of EMS, which is commonly cited as a barrier to EMS implementation across a range of agricultural industries (Halkos and Evangelinos 2002; Carruthers 2005). While pastoralists and other primary producers have identified a lack of time as a barrier to EMS uptake, the actual underlying barrier may well be that EMS is a low priority for them. Both Mech (2002) and Muller (2005) have noted that EMS uptake can be a low priority when farmers are under considerable pressure from ongoing rural adjustment processes.

During this study, pastoralists reported that EMS had not provided them with market benefits. Given that this was one of the main factors that pastoralists said would encourage them to further develop and implement EMS, a lack of market benefits can be considered a significant barrier to EMS uptake in the pastoral and other broad-acre industries (Pahl 2007; Seymour et al. 2007).

Other commonly reported barriers to EMS implementation in the agricultural industries are costs, the overly bureaucratic nature of the ISO 14001 standard, confusing terminology, peer or industry disapproval, and a lack of guidance, relevant information and other resources (Halkos and Evangelinos 2002; Mech 2002; Ridley et al. 2003; Strachan et al. 2003; Carruthers 2005).


Overall, many internal and external business benefits of EMS implementation have been reported in the intensive agricultural and industrial sectors. However, at this point in time, many of these benefits do not accrue to pastoral producers due to their small scale, low inputs, low risks and form of trading practices (store animals sold through auctions). At this time, when financial, market and regulatory drivers are weak, it seems that the uptake and continued use of EMS will be limited to the relatively small number of motivated pastoralists who value the internal business benefits of continually documenting and reviewing their management, and who have a strong personal desire to improve their environmental management.


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1 The EMSNPP was an initiative of the Natural Heritage Trust managed by the Australian Government Dept of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

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