Farmers push for strategy rethink

Macedon Ranges Agriculture Alliance chairperson, James Walsh, and Victorian Farmers Federation general manager of policy, Charles Everist, are pictured at Mr Walsh's Pipers Creek farm.

Farmers have united in a bid for a fairer deal in Macedon Ranges Shire Council’s Draft Rural Land Use Strategy.

The strategy proposes rezoning pockets of Farm Zone land to Rural Conservation that would restrict primary producers who wish to diversify away from or change their agricultural focus.

It’s a move that Pipers Creek farmer James Walsh said would restrict primary producers who wish to diversify away from or change their agricultural focus.

“If we’re rezoned here, I would need permits for machinery sheds, hay sheds and infrastructure that in the Farm Zone I have a right to build,” Mr Walsh told the Express.

“If we had a foot and mouth outbreak, and the cattle and sheep industry fell over and disappeared overnight, I’d have no stock, no way of generating an income. If I had to turn to intensive horticulture to meet my financial obligations, I’d have to go to the council and ask for permission and a permit. They could very well say no.

“This gives me absolutely no certainty in my capability to run the primary production business. In its current form, the strategy is just not fair.”

Existing use rights would enable farming to continue under a rezoning but would expire after two years of inactivity and only apply to current activities.

“That’s not a way to run a primary production business. It removes your right to farm in the way you want to farm,” Mr Walsh said.

Mr Walsh is the chair of a newly formed Macedon Ranges Agriculture Alliance fighting for farmland protection.

The alliance has about 25 members all challenging the Draft Rural Land Use Strategy in its current form.

Last week the Victorian Farmers Federation confirmed it backed the alliance’s position, concerned for the consequences on farm businesses.

VFF general manager of policy, Charles Everist, said VFF would be advocating with farmers to council that “they’ve got this wrong and need to have a rethink”.

A Romsey resident himself, Mr Everist said farmers across the state were concerned about freedoms of Macedon Ranges farmers being taken away.

“They’re also concerned about any precedent that might be set here for councils in other parts of the state to turn around and take away freedoms from farmers to do the important job they do,” he said.

“This community needs to ensure that agriculture is an attractive proposition for people to come into our region and invest, because if we lose that investment that will have an impact on the broader economy locally as well.”

The council says the aim of the strategy is to develop a vision for land currently in the Farm and Rural Conservation zones, and identify important value and features of rural land to be protected and enhanced.

It also aims to respond to changes in land use that have occurred over the past 20 years and identify mechanisms to foster best practice land management.

The council has received just over 170 submissions to its consultation process.