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Changing our EMS: Adapting with Thought – A case study on adapting catchment based systems.

Kirsten Skraha

BestFarms EMS, Blackwood Basin Group, Email


After receiving funding through the Australian Government’s Environmental Management System (EMS) Pathways to Sustainable Agricultural Programme, the Northern Rivers Catchment Management Authority (NR CMA) developed a partnership with the BestFarms program in WA to deliver sustainable agriculture using EMS in northern NSW. BestFarms adapted their catchment based EMS to reflect the priorities and issues faced in the northern NSW, and incorporated local and relevant industry knowledge, information and resources to ensure that the BestFarms system would remain a effective and practical tool for landholders. Local landcare officers, NR CMA staff and industry representatives were involved in the adaption to ensure that ownership of the system was placed squarely in the hands of those delivering it. The project has been a great success, with over 73 properties developing an EMS and five workshops being held up until March and five more workshops planned before June 2008.

Key Words

Partnership, adaptation, existing knowledge and networks, engagement.


In June 2007, the Northern Rivers Catchment Management Authority (NR CMA) received funding through the Australian Government’s Environmental Management System (EMS) Pathways to Sustainable Agricultural Programme to ‘build partnerships to deliver sustainable agriculture in northern NSW using an EMS approach’ (Williams, 2007). To deliver the project outcomes, they developed a partnership with the BestFarms EMS program developed by the Blackwood Basin Group in the South West of Western Australia.

BestFarms were contracted by NR CMA to adapt their existing catchment based system to the Northern Rivers catchment area of NSW and to then train local Catchment Landcare Coordinators (CLCs) and the Northern Rivers EMS Project Officer to deliver the system to local landholders and producers. With input from relevant industry bodies, local landholders, agency representatives, NR CMA staff and CLCs, the BestFarms Team were able to adapt their system from WA to northern NSW with relative ease. Many of the environmental issues faced by the two catchments were similar, with key differences being the higher population levels and presence of acid sulphate soils in NSW.

The Northern Rivers BestFarms workshops have been highly successful, with over 73 properties participating in the first five two-day workshops held before April 2008, with a further five scheduled before the end of June 2008. Ensuring ownership and uptake of the system was essential to its success.


Adapting the BestFarms system

As a catchment based EMS, BestFarms has developed a unique tool used to help participants carry out an environmental review of their property. The Environmental Management Plan Template (EMP) captures the environmental issues faced by the catchment and indicates the management priority of each issue at a catchment scale. The EMP was developed in consultation with local community stakeholders, farmers, agencies and Landcare groups and is updated regularly with feedback from the same groups. In order to adapt the BestFarms system to northern NSW, the EMP was reviewed by the BestFarms team with input from community stakeholders and Landcare, industry and agency professionals in the Northern Rivers catchment. The majority of the issues faced by catchments in South West WA were similar to those in northern NSW. Localised catchment issues, including more extensive incidences of soil erosion, acid sulphate soils and increased population pressure, were captured to ensure that the EMP and the system were relevant to NSW participants.

Engaging local landholders and promoting ownership

In order to successfully engage landholders and ensure local ownership of the system, the BestFarms Team provided local staff and CLCs with the resources and training to deliver the system themselves. An information and facilitator training workshop was held for CLCs within the catchment to give them an understanding of the system, its benefits and how they could help implement and deliver it on ground. It was important to have the support of the CLCs as they are the key contact with landholders on-ground and are the main avenue of communication with the community. Each Coordinator was also provided with information to promote the project and encourage uptake. BestFarms displays were also held at relevant farm field days and workshops to raise awareness about the project.

The BestFarms Team trained the NR CMA EMS Project Officer, Marc Carter, to deliver the BestFarms workshops, with support from local CLCs. During the training process, three supervised workshops were held to support the EMS Officer in his delivery and gain experience with the system. Training aids, including powerpoint presentation, a trainer delivery manual and notes, were also provided for on-going support, as well as regular contact with the BestFarms Team in WA.

Incorporating local industry information and relevant environmental issues was an important step to ensuring uptake and ownership by landholders in the NR CMA. It helped participants to see the relevance of the system to their properties and raised awareness that regardless of the industry you are involved in, you are still dealing with similar landcare issues at a catchment scale. Industry bodies that were involved, such as the Australian Macadamia Society and the Better Sugarcane Initiative, were integral in helping to promote this aspect of the project and ensuring the system was relevant to their producers and that it could dovetail into existing quality assurance systems.


The NR CMA BestFarms project has now delivered two facilitator training workshops and nine landholder EMS workshops across the catchment. Over 73 properties were trained in just the first four workshops, showing a fantastic rate of local uptake and landholder enthusiasm for the project (Carter, pers. comm.). Several landholders who attended the first set of workshops are now beginning to work towards achieving EMS certification.

Some other key factors have helped to make the project successful, including the BestFarms EMS system itself. The system provides a tool for landholders to demonstrate and gain recognition for their environmental practices and responsibility. Participating landholders in NSW will receive a BestFarms gate sign in recognition of their efforts which help to promote responsible and sustainable land management. This will also help to generate a feeling amongst landholders that they are working together as an active and supportive network to achieve catchment outcomes.

Figure 1. (left to right) Landholder Charlie Starrett with Granite Borders Landcare Officer Andrew Davidson and NR CMA EMS Officer Marc Carter during a BestFarms farm visit; and participants at the BestFarms Alstonville workshop in November 2007.


The partnership project between NR CMA and BestFarms EMS has demonstrated that the BestFarms catchment-based environmental management systems can be adapted and applied to any landscape, property size or industry. With vital on-ground knowledge and support, adapted systems can have great results in landholder uptake and support, and assist in delivering catchment scale outcomes and goals at the farm level.

The success of the BestFarms NR CMA project, which has undoubtedly achieved its objective of building partnerships to deliver sustainable agriculture in northern NSW using an EMS approach, was dependant on local on-ground support, engagement of the community and stakeholders and the use of a flexible and proven system.

The benefits of this partnership go beyond the project’s objective and have helped to maximise funding efficiency through use of existing systems, increased landholder involvement in catchment issues, linked landholders to extensive information and support networks and provided training to Community Landcare Coordinators and NR CMA staff.

The BestFarms NR CMA project participants will continue to be supported as participants of the now national BestFarms project, receiving newsletters, on-going support and field days to help them in the implementation of their EMSs for better long term land management.

Three key learnings:

• Build on existing investment, knowledge and networks – there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

• BestFarms and other catchment based EMSs can be adapted to any area with relative ease and local resources.

• Success depends on engagement of community and stakeholders and ensuring local ownership of projects.


Martin, K (2007). BestFarms Environmental Management Systems Workbook. NSW Version 1. Blackwood Basin Group, Boyup Brook WA.

Williams, V (2007). Media Release from the Hon Sussan Ley MP – Parlimentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

Carter, M (2008) Personal communication [April, 2008], Northern Rivers Catchment Management Authority EMS Project Officer, 2008.

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