Regulation tough for small farmers

Local farmers say regulation designed for big players is making it hard to grow their farm-gate businesses. 

Many raised their concerns with Victorian red tape commissioner Matthew Butlin at Daylesford’s Lake House on Wednesday night. 

ON THE FARM: Brookland Free Range Farm owner Jonathan Hurst says regulation for big players in the industry makes it hard to butcher on site. Picture: Dylan Burns.

ON THE FARM: Brookland Free Range Farm owner Jonathan Hurst says regulation for big players in the industry makes it hard to butcher on site. Picture: Dylan Burns.

The Daylesford Macedon Produce run session allowed farm-gate businesses to share their experience of regulatory protocols with Butlin, a commissioner who works to identify regulatory inefficiency.

Brooklands Free Range Farm’s Natalie Hardy said current regulations impacting farmers were designed for big players in the industry.  

“We find there are so many regulations in this industry and it makes it more and more complicated for us to get our product to the consumer,” she said. 

Brooklands Free Range Farms is a small scale pig and cattle farm which sells produce at farmers markets. Meat is butchered and packaged off site. 

Ms Hardy said Brooklands was hoping to start an on-farm butchery in coming years, but current regulation would make the task difficult. 

“With more and more farmers selling direct to consumers there needs to be an easier pathway that is uncomplicated and cost effective for farmers like us,” she said. 

“We need our own regulatory body that knows and understands our paddock to plate business so the industry can work with us and not against us.”

"We are not going to go away; we're a growing industry so I think regulatory bodies need to look at us as an individual group."

Natalie Hardy, Brooklands Free Range Farm

Partner Jonathan Hurst said Brooklands had no issue with complying with regulation. 

“We’re not saying open the door for us and let us do what we like,” he said. 

“There needs to be regulations for health and safety. But when small scale farmers are trying to set up an on farm butchery and abattoir they are facing the same regulations as the big scale farmers.”

LITTLE PLAYERS: Brooklands Free Range Farm owner Jonathan Hurst said regulations were designed for the big players. Picture: Dylan Burns.

LITTLE PLAYERS: Brooklands Free Range Farm owner Jonathan Hurst said regulations were designed for the big players. Picture: Dylan Burns.

Daylesford Macedon Produce chair Alla Wolf-Tasker said small artisan farms were important to the region. 

“Every dollar spent stays in the local economy,” she said. 

“There are benefits environmentally as people care for their farms and social outcomes by knowing who grows your food and relationships built with farmers.”

Local farmers raised their concerns about regulation that is preventing the growth of farm-gate businesses with Victorian Red Tape Commissioner Matthew Butlin on Wednesday night. Picture: Dylan Burns.

Local farmers raised their concerns about regulation that is preventing the growth of farm-gate businesses with Victorian Red Tape Commissioner Matthew Butlin on Wednesday night. Picture: Dylan Burns.

Local farmers have also raised the issue of confusion due to frequently changing regulation and conflicting advice from different bodies. 

Victorian government body Prime Safe and local council both hold regulatory responsibilities. 

Prime Safe is responsible for administering food legislation as detailed in the Meat Industry Act (1993), Seafood Safety Act (2003), Meat Industry Regulations (2015) and Seafood Safety Regulations (2014). 

Local council is responsible for monitoring the compliance of food in their jurisdiction. 

Milking Yard Farm’s Bruce Burton said he sold meat through butcher shops rather than direct to the consumer because of changing and unclear regulation. 

“We haven’t gone down that path (direct to consumer) because we don’t want to deal with Prime Safe,” he said. 

“Legislation is always changing and unclear around farm-gate sales. 

“We are hearing from one side that council can regulate and from the other side that Prime Safe can regulate. 

“I would like to make it easy for us to sell at farm gate.” 

Mr Burton said he was in the process of working to start a community abattoir. 

“We believe there should be simplified regulations for small artisanal producers to enable us to butcher on farm in a cooperative way,” he said. 

“There is a groundswell of end consumers who want to know that their animals are well cared for and they can’t get that through industrialised farms. 

“They want to know the source of the produce and have a relationship with the farmer which is very difficult without that last link of the chain (sales direct to consumers). 

“I think the government needs to respond to the end consumer. 

“For the government to support jobs and respond to the consumer they need to create scale appropriate regulations which meet market demands.”