EMS and Small Farms

Jeff Colson
May 2006

As a citrus and beef enterprise farmer we have been using quality assurance to demonstrate safe handling of food/adoption of occupational health and safety within the production systems that we manage. We have completed a lot of environmental work, having identified the natural resource assets on the property, protected them, enhanced them and extended them. Some of the natural resource assets include a rare stand of Eucalyptus cadens (Warby Swamp Gum ) and a rare stand of Casuarina luehmannii (Bulloke) in our locality. We have fenced off creeks and remnant vegetation on the farm. An environmental management system (EMS) seemed to be a logical progression to link our enterprise production systems with our natural resource assets.

Having completed the pilot programme we have found that EMS could be a useful tool in our interaction with government departments, industry, with the public/neighbours and the CFA. As we border a state park kangaroo culling is sometimes necessary. Through monitoring in our EMS we can give data to Department of Primary Industry’s to show the evidence for a cull. Bushfire is a big threat from the State Park. EMS outlines clear procedures that we carry out if a bushfire does occur but also that they are reviewed. EMS has enabled us to document our improvements to the environment whether it is revegetation, protecting remnants or improving biodiversity which should be useful in receiving grants in the future. It also has enabled us to monitor and improve our activities within the production systems that have an impact on the environment. We have been able to adopt irrigation systems that have little impact on the water table, perenniality into our pastures and continual improvement on our use of fossil fuel energy and reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Industry recognition can be through market access in international markets and demonstrating though an EMS programme that you are showing to the public/neighbours that you care for your surrounding environment.

Being accredited under EMS also demonstrates that the farmer is involved in continual improvement in the surrounding environment. I believe this will be important in the future as countries around the world will demand some sort of certainty that the commodity has come from a production system that has a sustainable sound environmental background. This could be used as a trade barrier by countries in the future. The pilot programme has been useful for small farmers such as ourselves as we could not afford to adopt the full ISO 9015. Having a number of farmers in the group has enabled buying power in the purchase of audits and suitable software for recording.

(One of the 100 farms in the pilot program conducted by a partnership of North Central, North East & Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authorities in Victoria,  and funded by the Australian Government through its EMS National Pilot Programs)