Planning reforms raise concerns for small pig and poultry farmers

Farming changes named bizarre

Small-scale and pasture-based pig and poultry farmers are hoping for regulation change, as the process of finalising new Victorian planning reforms enters its final stages. 

PIG FARM: Small-scale pig farmer Tammi Jonas is angered by the proposed planning reforms for sustainable animal industries. She says the reforms don't reduce red tape for small-scale farmers. Picture: Dylan Burns

PIG FARM: Small-scale pig farmer Tammi Jonas is angered by the proposed planning reforms for sustainable animal industries. She says the reforms don't reduce red tape for small-scale farmers. Picture: Dylan Burns

The public consultation period for the draft planning reforms for sustainable animal industries closed on Tuesday, and many of the region’s farmers took the submission opportunity to make their concerns heard.

The Victorian Government report Planning for Sustainable Animal Industries states the farming reforms were centred around more support and clarity for all those involved in animal industries.

“The reforms are about clearer regulation rather than increased regulation,” according to the report.

But many are concerned the proposed reforms don’t reduce red tape for small-scale commercial farmers, but instead force them to comply with the same regulations that apply to large-scale farming operations. 

Eganstown pig farmer Tammi Jonas is Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance president. She said the reforms were “bizarre”.

“The proposed new controls would mean farms like mine with 12 sows and 2 boars, so about 100 pigs on 10 hectares of our 28-hectare farm at any time, would have to apply for a permit just like those with 1000 pigs in a shed, and yet the farmer next door could put up to 1000 cattle in a feedlot right up to our fence line without a permit nor a buffer. Whose interest does this really serve?,” Ms Jonas said. 

Picture: Dylan Burns

Picture: Dylan Burns

The draft provisions propose no permit be required for a pig farm that meets certain conditions; among them, no more than 10 pigs on land a minimum of five hectares, with no pigs located within a 50 metre setback from separate ownership dwellings, waterways and wetlands and residential and urban growth zones. This permit exemption will likely apply to families with animals and hobby farmers.

All other pig farms will require a permit, which can cost more than $1200. A streamlined permit application process, meaning an exemption from notice and third party review requirements, will apply to farms with less than eight sows and one boar with 100 metre setback conditions. 

It’s a similar scenario for poultry farms, with no permit required for farms that meet conditions and a streamlined application process for small, likely non-commercial farms that fall into the second category. All other poultry farms will require a permit. 

Ms Jonas said there had been a serious misunderstanding of what small-scale, pasture-based pig and poultry farms were, an issue she said was potentially caused by a lack of representation on the Implementation Reference Group (a consultation group of industry, community and government representatives). 

“We have put that in our submission, that we think there was a serious lack of due process not to have us represented given the impact on our systems,” Ms Jonas said. 

She said it was bizarre the maximum number of animals condition for a streamlined permit application was unattached to land size. 

“So those eight sows could be on eight acres or they could be on 80 acres. It obviously makes a material difference to the land and yet a number just triggers it and that is dumb.”

Picture: Dylan Burns

Picture: Dylan Burns

Bruce Burton is the owner of Trentham East pastured poultry farm, Milking Yard Farm. He said if passed, the reforms would discourage new farmers from trying pig and poultry farming. 

“If a new farmer wants to give pastured poultry a go, they will see that once they hit 450 chooks it means they are going to have to get a permit. A permit is $1200, plus it requires quite a bit of time to assemble a planning permit. Therefore why would you bother taking on such a small scale poultry operation?,” Mr Burton said.

“We produce about 100 chickens a week and at any one time we have 1000 to 2000 chickens on the farm. So 450 is a really small number. The issue there is also about affordability. If you are only doing a couple of hundred chickens, you don’t make much out of one chicken. If you’re not making much, then the $1200 cost for a permit is prohibitive, because it would take you a lot of chickens to pay for that $1200 permit.”

Alex Sims runs Baynton small-scale pasture-based poultry farm Hand to Ground. He said the planning reforms were a threat to the viability of their business.

Mr Sims said there would be a period of uncertainty over the next 12 to 18 months when a code of practice is developed. 

Picture: Dylan Burns

Picture: Dylan Burns

According to the government report, “further opportunities to streamline planning requirements will be considered as part of developing a general code of practice and industry specific guidelines”. 

Agriculture Victoria policy manager Jennifer Alsfeld said the planning reforms were the first step in the process. “Initially we are going to introduce the permit exemptions and the streamlined planning process for low risk pig and poultry farms, but the next step is to develop a general code of practice which will be industry specific guidelines that will point to land management techniques to further reduce environmental and amenity risk,” Ms Alsfeld said.

“Once we have that further documentation, we will be able to look at ways to further simplify the planning process for the small scale pig and poultry producers.

“We have looked at stocking densities and all sorts of ways we might be able to create planning controls, but when it comes to farming production systems, there are so many ways people can do things, and manage their farms. It is better to put that detail into a code of practice and technical guidelines – but that work is 12 to 18 months away.”

Mr Burton said the uncertain impact of the reforms would create a disincentive for farmers to invest in their business. 

“Unless we can get an agreement on what the principles of the code should be, then we really don’t know what the impact is going to be apart from the fact we are going to have to spend $1200, go through an onerous planning process and one not even the planners really understand.”