In recent history there has been a significant change in the legislative requirements placed on landholders.
Unfortunately, while farmers are specialists in production they are generalists in many other aspects of their business. Farmers looking to purchase more land or change enterprises from grazing to cropping, for example, are often unaware of the many legislative requirements and historical information they should consider prior to making decisions.
Unintended legislative breaches or a lack of awareness of property specific issues have resulted in financial hardship, production losses and legal action.
In some areas both a basic due diligence and advanced risk assessment investigations should be carried out to ascertain what, if any, constraints, legal or otherwise, may impact the property:
- In Queensland, although PMAVs Category X identify areas that can be developed, certain Commonwealth Legislation and Local Government Regional Planning laws may override the State Legislation.
- Under Queensland legislation, many landholders believe that as all “white country” on a Regional Ecosystem map is now Category X, a PMAV is no longer required. It is still wise to provide additional security with a PMAV as well as Forestry Practices PMAV.
- All regrowth is not treated equally. Under the Commonwealth EPBC Act and Local Government Planning, regrowth type and age may mean regrowth control puts you in breach of the legislation.
- In some situations, weed control could be interpreted as clearing.
- Salinity is increasing, most notably in Brigalow and Scrub country. Usually there are clear signs to look for that alert you to a salt area or where an area is likely to break out.
- Resource companies have mining leases and registered tenements on broad areas of Queensland. It’s very helpful to know where they are before starting development and the issues you may face.
- Land use planning and agricultural land legislation – know what it means and how it may affect decision making on your property.
- Current or historic water licences and taking of water are often legislated by a permit system. Do a check before using the water so you don’t exceed your limit. In some areas of Queensland, there is historic data available that details the trend in bore depths. Bores that were previously 3-4m from the surface, are now much lower after 15 years. Where will they be in another 15 years.
- Be aware that with previous and/or current land management practices, water quality in dams and watercourses may be contaminated.
- Soil contamination can be a significant issue if organic certification is required. Contaminants can sometimes be identified by simple property walkover to identify contaminant source, however sometimes more intense specialised methods may be required.
- Erosion and sediment control can often be easily controlled in reasonably short timeframes if identified early, but can take over 50 years to remediate if the identifiers are not picked up early and actions put into place.
Three levels of bureaucracy
Each time a Government at any level changes incumbents there is the potential for changes to the governing laws.
Landholders trying to get a definitive answer when they contact Government representatives find the process very frustrating. Given the value of the asset at stake it is rapidly moving to the point where professional risk analysts will have to be employed to help a farmer get correct advice.
Depending on the level of due diligence required, ecologists, planners, environmental engineers, digital mapping experts and other agricultural specialists may need to be consulted.
The cost of getting it wrong is now too high
Experts cost money but the law does not allow for landholders to plead ignorance. Simple unintentional mistakes are proving to be very costly for some landholders.
The hardest part is keeping up with legislative changes and as more farmers become aware of the potential risks, they will have to weigh up the cost of outsourcing the research and reporting to ensure they are protected. In-depth risk analysis can review property tenure, environmental issues, water, utilities, contaminated land, soil machinery and buildings.
Personally, I consult registers, agencies, databases and other rural specialists so that he can produce property specific information on an as needs basis to his clients. Broad reporting areas can include analysis of the following:
- Land tenure and any issues relating to that tenure from resource companies, Local, State and Commonwealth Government
- Environmental and vegetation management legislation
- Review of regrowth vegetation, prior to control, most likely to be a Threatened Ecological Community (TEC) under the EPBC Act. These communities are usually not mapped on any State or Commonwealth mapping, however database searches, pre-clearance mapping and field surveys will identify where they are.
- Pasture, agricultural and nationally significant Weeds
- Water quality, mapped wetlands, groundwater, bores, water pumping permits, weirs and dams
- Soil and land management
- Contaminated land
- Salinity and erosion hazard mapping
- Cultural and European heritage listings
- Agronomic advice relating to cropping, grazing capacity, salinity risk, land suitability
- Electrical utilities
- Condition report of machinery, buildings, yards and fences; and,
- Economic assessment and financial analysis of proposed property purchase or development.
Depending on the enterprise mix of a property and it’s location, a basic due diligence may be all that is currently needed. For enterprises in potential high-risk areas it is worth checking with a specialist and ensuring your assets are protected. An initial phone consultation costs only time but has the potential to save significant money in the future.