Riverina: tackling environmental management is a big adventure by Anna Ridley, Eloise Seymour and Tim Paramore

THREE YEARS ago a group of 12 farmers, two Victorian Department of Natural Resources and Environment staff and a consultant agronomist embarked on an adventure; their goal, to develop a pilot environmental management system (EMS) for the grains industry.

What was initially a daunting task has turned out to be a wonderful group experience. The group has thoroughly enjoyed the experiences and challenges involved in learning about better ways to farm that combine both production and the environment.

How do we define EMS?

An EMS is a simply structured approach to help farmers assess and improve their environmental performance on their own farms. It can be viewed as a complicated and bureaucratic process and indeed can be, if delivered in this way.

The Riverina group, while maintaining a consistent process, has developed an EMS from the ground up. EMS components are practical and contain local information based on the principles of environmentally sustainable farming (minimal leakage of water and nutrients, minimal erosion, no persistent toxicities, control of pests, weeds and disease, and no loss of biodiversity).

The Riverina EMS has used group learning to tackle complex and perhaps unfamiliar issues such as water and nutrient leakage and biodiversity. The group provided plenty of opportunity for discussion and reflection of these issues and, as the project comes to an end, it is evident that change in knowledge and practice has occurred.

A few comments from growers

"The benefits were immeasurable and invaluable. I gained a knowledge of EMS, greater awareness of our responsibilities to the environment, was exposed to a wide range of opinions and philosophies, learned many new skills and made new friends - all in an atmosphere of cooperative sharing - a real bonus to any rural community" - farmer at Rennie, NSW.

"I originally joined the group so as to counteract the influence of the supposed 'green' element. Participation has fundamentally changed my life in the way I view things and my attitude to my own farm - very hard to explain" - farmer at Corowa, NSW.

A limited number of copies of the Riverina EMS package are available from Eloise Seymour at Rutherglen Research Institute 02 6030 4500.

Program 4 Contact: Dr Anna Ridley or Ms Eloise Seymour 02 6030 4500

Private agronomists interested in incorporating environmental management into their consulting business, contact Mr Tim Paramore, Paramore Agronomic Services 02 6021 1351.