Frequently Asked Questions
What is Farming for the Future?
Farming for the Future is a large-scale research program that seeks to investigate whether there is a business case for producers to improve natural capital in productive landscapes, at scale. It aims to:
- Deliver large-scale evidence to demonstrate the relationship between natural capital functionality and farm profitability for core production
- Deliver capability to assess natural capital accounting at the farm scale
- Build a farm benchmarking platform to enable decision-making about natural capital investments.
- Prime and align the system of businesses and service providers that engage with farmers to create an environment to incentivize and reward investment in on-farm natural capital.
What is natural capital?
The term ‘natural capital’ refers to the natural resources that producers manage for the benefit of their businesses, their families and society. It includes soils, vegetation, productive pasturelands and croplands, riparian areas, water resources, agroforestry, environmental plantings and animals.
Farming for the Future considers that all types of natural resources in agriculture are part of a farm’s natural capital portfolio. In our view, the natural capital of a farm includes remnant native vegetation, as well as pastures for livestock production, paddocks for crop production, and shelterbelts for protection of crops and livestock – all used to improve productivity and profitability of a farm business.
What do I get out of the program?
Farming for the Future has been designed by farmers and industry to give farmers useful information about the role of natural capital in supporting farm profit, mitigating business risk, and generating other benefits for farmers. Participants will receive a range of information products, including detailed farm maps and natural capital accounts valued at $35,000, benchmarking tools that provide an understanding of relative farm performance, and access to research reports and findings from detailed analysis of 1500 farms across Australia.
What is the timeline for data collection/ deliverables for the program?
Farming for the Future has four main phases:
- Phase 1 was completed in 2021. It sought advice from industry about the value of the project undertook expert peer-review of the proposed methods.
- Phase 2 is currently underway with support from Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) and Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) and will finish in October 2022. In Phase 2, we are collecting linked natural capital, production, financial and social data for between 120 and 150 livestock producers operating on farms between 600ha and 5000ha in our regions of focus. We will analyse this data to provide preliminary evidence of relationships between natural capital and benefits to farm businesses, farming families and regional communities. We expect to put initial results out in July 2022.
- In Phase 2+ Farming for the Future will expand its data collection program to about 400 farms, including participants in Queensland and South Australia. We will also expand our scope to include additional livestock producers, as well as farmers with mixed grazing-cropping and pure cropping operations.
- In Phase 3 the program will expand further to include rangelands, pastoral and horticulture enterprises and will build towards getting data for 1500 farms nationally. At this point, Farming for the Future will plan a transition of the dataset and tools developed to a long-term institutional owner who will continue to operate it for the benefit of farmers, under not-for-profit governance as a form of national public good infrastructure. We do not have a perspective at this point on which organization this might be.
What is the timeline for data collection/ deliverables for farms participating in Phase 2?
Phase 2 finance and production data collection and satellite imagery analysis of natural capital is commencing now. We are collecting field data from spring through to late summer (depending on location) which is when we expect the farms to show their natural capital at its best. The data will be compiled in batches following completion of field data from the region. Participating farmers can expect to receive the following materials.
How much time will I need to commit to Farming for the Future?
We ask the farmer to set aside about 2-3 days to engage with the Data Collection Advisors as they collect the production and financial information and a couple of hours with the Ecologist for a general orientation to the farm and any specific information about fenced areas, farm plantings, fertilizer history and crop rotations.
We would also ask farm participants to spend a couple of hours with our field ecologists when they visit the property to provide some general farm orientation and answer some questions about your land management.
Will people have to come to my property?
Yes. We will send an ecologist to each farm to assess the condition of the natural capital (native vegetation, pasture condition, soils and land function) at approximately 30 points across the property. Our self-sufficient ecologists usually take 2-3 days to complete this work. During the visit they will need a couple of hours with the farmer for general farm orientation and to answer some land management questions.
Why is Farming for the Future collecting doing such intensive (and expensive) on-ground data collection rather than using remote sensing?
Farming for the Future is primarily a research project. The on-farm ecological assessment provides details we can’t yet source elsewhere. The ecological assessment also fulfils an important ground-truthing function and is required to ensure that remotely sensed information is accurate and reliable for use at the farm- and paddock-scales.
Farming for the Future also uses the ecological data collected during on-site surveys to prepare a natural capital account that quantifies its natural capital including calculating the carbon footprint of the farm. The on-ground assessment helps improve our understanding about how specific management activities might farm business performance and other desired outcomes over time.
There can also be other significant benefits that arise from doing onsite assessments. This is particularly the case where farmers engage with the ecologist and seek to understand the ecological component of the overall natural capital accounts. Even though farmers usually have intimate knowledge of the landscape they manage, by engaging with the ecological assessment process they are likely to improve their understanding of the ecology and the ecosystem services they supply to the farm business.
During the pilot phase of our research (Phase 2 and Phase 2+) we will be determining the level of information necessary to understand relationships between natural capital condition and business outcomes. Over time, once these relationships have been established, we expect the intensity and cost of the assessments to be reduced.
Do I need to have previous involvement in natural capital projects to be part of Farming for the Future?
No previous involvement in any project is required to be part of this project. We are recruiting farm participants that represent a range of management practices and amounts of natural capital. Farms don’t need to be a ‘green’ farm, or to employ any particular type of natural capital management regime.
What spatial locations are currently included in the program?
We are currently assessing grazing properties between 600-5000 ha in certain regions of Victoria (Glenelg-Hopkins), Tasmania (Midlands), NSW (Riverina-Murray, Central West & Slopes) and WA (Mid rainfall). This spatial focus will be expanded during Phase 2+ and Phase 3.
What type of farming system do I need to have to participate?
The program is taking a staged approach to the assessment of farms so that we have farm cohorts for which the natural capital indices will be relevant; this means keeping the regions, farm size and farm sector consistent. Currently in Phase 2 of the program, we are assessing grazing properties between 600-5000 ha in certain regions of Vic, Tas, NSW and WA. Over time we will be expanding our scope to encompass any and all farms, but we expect this will take 3-5 years.
Can I be involved in other projects?
Yes, from our perspective being involved in Farming for the Future does not preclude involvement in any other program or project.
Who funds Farming for the Future?
Farming for the Future receives significant funding from the Macdoch Foundation, as well as funding from other philanthropists. Current industry funders are Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) and Australian Wool Innovation (AWI).
Who is the Macdoch foundation and why are they funding this project?
The Macdoch Foundation is the Australian philanthropic foundation of Alasdair and Prue MacLeod, whose family office is the Macdoch Group. The purpose of the Foundation is to build the resilience of people and the planet.
The Macdoch Foundation is a registered charity with the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission. It is governed and operated independently from the Macdoch Ag Group and Macdoch Ventures, the commercial entities of the Macdoch Group in Australia. The Macdoch Foundation operates exclusively to deliver on charitable purposes as prescribed and defined by the Charities Act (Cth) 2013, and further described by the Foundation’s External Governance Statement.
The Macdoch Foundation seeks to address systemic challenges through a variety of interventions, including research in the areas of landscape regeneration, climate change solutions and rural and regional mental health and wellbeing. Farming for the Future is one such research project.
What if my property is only small and not my primary income?
The program is taking a staged approach to the assessment of farms. We are currently focussing on farms that are 600ha – 5000ha, and which are managed as a relatively intensive business enterprise. Over time we hope to expand the scope of the program to encompass any and all farms, but we expect this will take 3-5 years.
How else can I be involved?
Even if you don’t meet the criteria for our current phase of research you can register your expression of interest in our project here. We will keep your details on file and invite you to participate in any future research phases within in your area. We will also be in touch periodically to invite you to participate in our producer workshops and surveys. Your participation in these important engagement and co-design activities will help ensure that our program is well-aligned with industry requirements for an engaged and profitable agricultural sector in Australia.
You can also keep up to date with our website and newsletters and feel free to share them with your friends, neighbours and network.
How can I keep up to date with new developments?
The Farming for the Future website provides access to all our activity updates and newsletters. If you register your expression of interest in our project here, we will email you our newsletter. We may also get in touch from time to time to invite you to participate in our producer workshops, and surveys.
How is my data privacy being ensured?
Our data systems have been designed to avoid identification of participants. Our data collection and management processes have been designed so that the production and financial data is de-identified by farm advisors and ecologists before it comes into Farming for the Future workflow systems. This means that within our systems farm data is identified with a code and not with a business name or a farmer name. The economists will use this de-identified data for their research queries and to produce their findings. We will make sure that all findings are presented in such a way so that individual contributors can’t be identified.
After the on-farm ecological survey is complete, natural capital data relating to the farm is allocated a different code and submitted to Farming for the Future without any identifying details. The Farming for the Future databases for will link the codes for financial data and natural capital data to show that they come from the same farm, but no identifying details will be kept on file.
Does participation in this project introduce any obligations relating to my natural capital or other farm management decisions?
Participation in Farming for the Future does not obligate farmers to use any specific natural capital management techniques, nor does it require you to meet any environmental performance or natural capital management standards. Farming for the Future encourages participants to use the findings of the research and any insights received from engagement with the program to make independent decisions about how they might manage their natural capital to achieve their business and personal goals.