Farmers for Climate Action: Recommendation
Farmers for Climate Action (FCA) is a movement of farmers, agricultural leaders and rural Australians working to ensure they are part of the solution to climate change. It is the only farmer-led organisation focused specifically on adapting to and mitigating climate change in the Australian agricultural sector. FCA is a registered charity, and now represents more than 6,500 farmers and has over 45,000 total supporters. Its work includes farmer education and training, industry and government advocacy, research and partnerships, and building farmer networks and communities of practice.
FCA’s theory of change is grounded in the belief that if it organises farmers, graziers and agriculturalists to lead climate solutions on-farm and advocate together, it can influence the sector and the government to adopt climate policies that reduce emissions and benefit regional and rural communities. Given the Nationals are one of the most significant barriers to climate action in Australia, FCA’s influence in key Nationals-held constituencies will help achieve the policies needed for Australia to reduce emissions at the scale and speed necessary to avoid catastrophic temperature rise. This diagram outlines FCA’s theory of change:
Despite being a relatively new organisation, FCA has proven to have significant influence on climate policies at the state and federal level. FCA’s advocacy saw Nationals MP Anne Webster announce that she would not uphold the Nationals’ line on coal. FCA has garnered significant support from the Victorian Nationals, which has also started calling for stronger climate action. At the industry level, the experts we interviewed indicated FCA was instrumental in the National Farmers Federation’s (NFF) decision to support an economy-wide net zero by 2050 target. This is significant given the relationship between the NFF and the Nationals Party.
FCA also conducts education and training programs to help farmers implement climate smart practices that reduce agriculture and land use emissions. This training, along with media training and broader community engagement initiatives, has helped position farmers as an evidence-based voice to engage on climate change at local, state and federal levels.
For more information on FCA, please review our Deep Dive Report on the organisation.
Based on FCA’s achievements, strategic approach to addressing climate policy barriers, and the impact that additional funding would have, we recommend it as one of our top organisations for influencing climate policy in Australia.
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Why we recommend Farmers for Climate Action
The Giving Green Australia: 2021 Research Process details how we identified the highest impact organisations working to improve climate policy in Australia. The process involved expert interviews, an expert survey, focus groups, and desk research. We focused on organisations that are using the three key approaches our research determined are the highest priority for delivering policy change: ‘insider advocacy’, ‘outsider advocacy’ and ‘changing the story’. FCA uses all three of these priority approaches. Furthermore, FCA was nominated 11 times by the 52 experts we surveyed, which was the second highest number of votes any organisation received. FCA would also deliver substantial returns from additional marginal investment.
In our assessment of FCA’s impact, we spoke with representatives from FCA and interviewed a number of climate policy and advocacy experts and practitioners. We also reviewed publicly available information on FCA, including its website and policy reports, as well as media coverage of the organisation.
Our research led us to conclude that FCA is one of the most effective organisations working to improve Australia’s climate policy. Additional funding is likely to have a high marginal impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions through influencing policy change and farmer practices.
Here, we present our reasons for recommending FCA. We also recommend that those interested read our Deep Dive Report on FCA.
1.FCA’s board, staff and members have strong connections with the Nationals Party, industry leaders and regional communities most affected by climate change.
As one of the largest farmer-led organisations, FCA is well placed to advocate for the industry and rural and regional farming communities that are most impacted.
Its board directors are industry leaders, with more than 200 years of combined experience in agriculture. FCA’s staff have expertise in politics, advocacy, regional development, media and marketing, and they are supported by Australia’s leading climate and agriculture researchers.
FCA has over 45,000 supporters (i.e. people that attend local events, promote campaigns or are engaged as volunteers, but not necessarily farmers), of which 6,500 are members (i.e. those that have identified as farmers). It expects to grow to 8,000 members in the next financial year, however is aiming for 10,000. FCA’s members are from across the industry, including from the beef and sheep, horticulture, cropping and dairy sectors. FCA’s members span the whole country, enabling them to focus on both local and national climate policies.
The Nationals are one of the most significant blockers to climate action at the federal level, which is why FCA is working to mobilise the constituents that Nationals politicians claim to represent. Historically, the Nationals claim to represent rural and regional farming communities, however its opposition to agriculture emissions reduction policies is increasingly at odds with what farmers want for the sector. FCA is building the collective voice of farmers, industry groups, communities and politicians to challenge Nationals’ positions on climate change at the federal level. By offering training on media engagement and advocacy, farmers are well positioned to engage with the media and the government, and can run campaigns on industry- and community-specific climate issues and policies. In 2021, FCA launched a roadshow in the electorate of Mallee and engaged over 60 farmers through events culminating in a forum where the local Nationals member, Anne Webster, announced she would not uphold the Nationals line on coal.
2. FCA’s research and advocacy is helping to reframe the narrative about agriculture and climate change at the industry and government level.
FCA has played a significant role in shifting the public discourse that suggests that strong climate policy is bad for the agricultural sector. Following the Government’s announcement that it would not sign up to the Global Methane Pledge launched at COP26 in November 2021, FCA was one of the main industry bodies challenging the Nationals’ suggestion that this decision was to protect the agriculture sector.
FCA works through a range of research and education partnerships that help shift the narrative around agriculture and climate change. Most recently, FCA commissioned Ernst and Young to produce the report How can Australia’s agriculture sector realise opportunity in a low emissions future. The report outlines how the sector can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and capitalise on the clean energy transition. The report was launched with NFF president, Fiona Simson and Victorian Nationals leader Peter Walsh. Coordinator for Australia’s climate strategy for COP26, James Larsen, attended the launch and later sought advice from FCA on the Federal Government’s commitment in the lead up to COP. The report also led to almost 700 media clips.
FCA and its members are increasingly sought after spokespeople on climate change in both mainstream and conversative media outlets. In the last 12 months, over 130 farmers received media training, regularly engaging with the media and sharing their experiences on the frontline of climate change impacts. This resulted in over 400 media items (not including syndication) featuring FCA or their farmers.
3. FCA’s education and training on climate smart agriculture is influencing action by farmers.
FCA provides educational resources that support farmers to reduce emissions, ranging from practices that help with methane reduction to better land and waste management. The education and training initiatives include conferences, forums and workshops that showcase the latest in climate change and agricultural science, annual fellowships in local communities, and publications and toolkits on climate-smart agriculture. It recently released the ‘climate smart agriculture tool kit’, which offers tips and strategies for implementing different solutions.
Over 1,000 farmers reported having greater knowledge of what they can do to reduce emissions on their farms as a result of FCA’s work, with 86.7 per cent of participating farmers reporting they have gained knowledge and skills.
4. Federal and state governments on both sides of politics are already implementing FCA’s policy recommendations.
Many of FCA’s policy advocacy efforts have been successful to date. In 2019, FCA’s advocacy generated bipartisan support for establishing the National Climate Change and Agriculture Work Program for state and federal agriculture ministers. The work program focuses on four key priorities: the development and delivery of information and tools to improve on-farm decisions and risk management; research and innovation to support adaptation and mitigation technology; strengthening market opportunities for farming businesses; and increasing biosecurity. The newly formed Climate Change Task Group was established to oversee the work program and report to the Agricultural Senior Officials Committee.
One expert noted that FCA played an integral role in recently approved changes to the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF). The ERF is a voluntary scheme that provides incentives for the adoption of new practices and technologies to reduce emissions. The changes introduced ultimately enhance farmers' access to the scheme. Changes included the addition of ‘method stacking’, which would allow farmers to implement multiple ERF projects on the one property using multiple methods. In practice, this means that farmers can claim credits for implementing multiple sequestration methods (such as land regeneration) via the one application. Other policy wins include changes to the taxation of income generated through the sale of ACCUs (Australian Carbon Credit Units). Put simply, farmers are now taxed at a lower rate for income generated by offset projects, such as increasing soil carbon, reducing livestock emissions and reforestation. The aim of this change is to incentivise further decarbonisation and offset initiatives. By facilitating further uptake of on-farm emissions reduction activities, farming communities are likely to be less resistant to increased national emissions reduction ambition.
5. Additional marginal investment could help FCA mobilise farmers as a key voter group to shift the Nationals’ climate policies.
FCA’s operating budget for the 2021-2022 financial year is $1.7 million, and is projected to grow to $2 million for the 2022-2023 period. Over 80 per cent of FCA’s 2020-2021 funding came from donations and bequests, under three per cent from government grants, and six per cent from other revenues.
FCA is making a meaningful contribution to changing the narrative around climate action for key constituencies in rural and regional Australia. If successful, it could help shift the Nationals’ climate change policy and remove a major impediment to accelerating climate action at a federal level.
Immediate funding in the short term would help FCA develop organising strategies for key electorates, and then establish member networks that would build local support for strong climate policy. This would include local campaigns and events to achieve politicians’ and candidates’ support for progressive climate policies at the local, state and federal level. It would also involve ongoing training of farmers to build their presence in local and rural media outlets to promote solutions and policy changes.
Ongoing marginal funding would help hire full-time professional staff needed to strengthen FCA’s policy acumen and build up the reach of its call centre. The latter will be important in supporting direct engagement with farmers across the country.
Risks to Farmers for Climate Action
FCA is in a period of rapid growth. As noted by several experts, its ongoing impact will depend on its ability to expand the team in a way that caters to its growing membership, hones the targeted political and industry expertise required, and achieves ongoing financial sustainability.
FCA has had a significant impact in its short history with a very small team, but it is this limited capacity that poses the greatest challenge in realising its full potential. Hiring decisions will be key as FCA’s work increasingly focuses on the policy space, with one expert noting the need for stronger policy experience on staff as key to mitigating this gap. While FCA’s funding has increased, it was noted that further funding would be needed to secure the type of expertise required to capitalise on growing media and public presence and influence. This is less of a risk, but will be an important consideration for the organisation going forward.
As a comparatively young organisation, financial sustainability will be key to FCA having an ongoing impact. Recent internal fundraising efforts have been successful, however developing ongoing and diversified income streams to support sustainable growth will also be vital.
Some may suggest that Australia cannot reach net zero emissions unless meat production is drastically reduced, such that FCA’s lack of a position on reducing herd sizes is inconsistent with effective action on climate change. Our view is that meat producers will continue to produce meat as long as consumers demand it (which 97 per cent of Australians still do), and as long as it remains profitable. Neither a Liberal-National Coalition nor a Labor Government show any sign of considering the introduction of policies that would actively discourage meat consumption or make meat production more expensive. It is more realistic to expect an Australian Government to introduce policies that would incentivise alternative uses of farmland that help to reduce emissions (i.e. ‘carrots’ not ‘sticks’): which Australia’s Emissions Reduction Fund does. Moreover, there is high potential to reduce agriculture emissions using methane-reduction technologies that are in their infancy (such as feeding asparagopsis to cows), and improved land-use methods (such as savannah burning). Research and development support in the short-term could help farmers commercialise these solutions. FCA is well-placed to advocate for policies to incentivise this. We are therefore confident that recommending FCA for additional funding will have positive climate outcomes, especially because of FCA’s influence in strategic Nationals-held electorates.
Given the Nationals are one of the most significant barriers to climate action in Australia, FCA’s influence in key Nationals-held constituencies will help achieve the policies needed for Australia to reduce emissions at the scale and speed necessary to avoid catastrophic temperature rise. Additional marginal investment would help FCA scale its advocacy efforts and policy influence, including hiring a policy expert and expanding the call-centre team to enhance their farmer outreach efforts. Based on our research, we believe that FCA will make a significant contribution to accelerating climate policy in Australia.
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https://farmersforclimateaction.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/FCA-Annual-Report-2020-2021_Fv3-1.pdf Note: supporters are members of the public that are engaged in campaigns, or attend events for example, but may not be farmers. Of that total, there are 6,500 that identify as farmers.
Members self-select the industries they are engaged in. The current breakdown is: beef (27%), mixed (18%), regenerative (17%), horticulture (12%), cropping (11%), sheep/wool (8%), dairy and other (7%).
Giving Green - FCA Survey Response
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/263932348_Fire_in_Australian_Savannas_from_leaf_to_landscape; see also https://nph.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/nph.13130; https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26630453/