Northern Rivers Farmland Protection Project
Final Recommendations February 2005
FINAL RECOMMENDATIONS Table of contents
1 PROJECT OVERVIEW……….. 3
What’s the background of the Farmland Protection Project?... 3
Where does the project apply?... 3
Who is carrying out the project?... 3
What does the project seek to do?... 4
What’s happened so far?... 5
What happens next?... 5
2 THE MAPS……… 6
How the maps were developed ………. 6
The steps……… 6
Soil landscape mapping ………. 6
Soil landscape selection ………. 7
Refining the maps………. 7
What the maps show……….11
State and regionally significant farmland……….. 11
Hatched areas………... 12
Excluded areas………..………... 12
Future settlement areas……….. 13
Environmental values………... 13
Changes to the maps between 2004 and 2005………...13
3 CONSULTATION – WHAT WE LEARNT……….……….. 18
The 2003 consultation……….……….18
Key themes in 2003 ……….………18
The 2004 consultation ……….………...21
Key themes in 2004……….……….22
4 RECOMMENDATIONS FOR USE OF THE MAPS…….……….. 26
Regional farmland objectives………..……….. 26
Planning principles………..……… 26
Strategic boundary review……….….……… 29
Mapping review……….….……….. 31
Additional recommendations………..……… 31 5 FURTHER WAYS IN WHICH AGRICULTURE MIGHT BE PROTECTED….32
1 PROJECT OVERVIEW Introduction
Agriculture is an important industry on the North Coast. It is the region’s third largest employer and exporter and fourth highest contributor to gross regional production.
Agricultural land is a finite resource and is under increasing development pressure. A great deal of good agricultural land has been lost to production already. Population pressures have resulted in substantial urban and rural residential encroachment onto farmland. This is having a significant impact on the economic and social value of agriculture in our region. In particular, the loss of critical mass of farms can make it difficult to maintain support services and infrastructure. Land use conflicts between farming and non-farming neighbours have increased, at times leading to farmers having to alter or even close their farming operations. Increasing land prices due to development pressure makes it difficult for farmers to purchase additional land to ensure the ongoing viability of their business.
What’s the background of the Farmland Protection Project?
The protection of agricultural land on the NSW North Coast is a long-term government initiative. It was first identified in 1995 in the North Coast Urban Planning Strategy and subsequently in the NSW Coastal Policy (1997), the Northern Rivers Regional Strategy (1999), and the Northern Rivers, Upper North Coast and Mid North Coast Catchment Blueprints (2002). It is consistent with the goals and strategic directions of the state government.
The Northern Rivers Catchment Management Blueprint was developed to provide a direction for action and investment by stakeholders in the catchment’s natural resources. Land Use Planning Management Target 2.1 of the Blueprint is to have:
‘100% of those large contiguous areas of land mapped as most important for current and/or future food, fibre and timber production and rural employment permanently protected in agricultural reserves by 2008.’
The related Blueprint action 2.1.1 is to:
‘Develop criteria to identify the areas of agricultural land that need to be conserved for future agricultural use, and map the agricultural reserve boundaries at a cadastral level’
The target and action form the basis for the Farmland Protection Project.
Where does the project apply?
The project area includes the Tweed, Richmond and Brunswick catchments, these being the previous Northern Rivers Catchment Management area. It includes land in the Tweed, Byron, Kyogle, Lismore, Richmond Valley and Ballina local government areas.
Who is carrying out the project?
Stage One of the Project was coordinated by Lismore Living Centres, as part of the former Department of Urban Affairs and Planning/PlanningNSW. That stage of the project was overseen by the Living Centres Reference Group, which comprised representatives from state and local government as well as regional industry and community interests. PlanningNSW has since been merged with the former Department of Land and Water Conservation to form the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources (DIPNR).
The Northern Rivers Catchment Management Authority secured federal funding to continue the Project, and
contracted DIPNR to carry out Stages Two and Three of the project through DIPNR’s North Coast office in Grafton. The former NSW Agriculture, now Department of Primary Industries, is a major partner in the project.
The project team comprised:
• Claire Aman, DIPNR, (environmental planning), project coordinator for Stages Two & Three. The coordinator for Stage One was Wendy Stuart, (natural resource planning) Lismore Living Centres
• Carlie Boyd, DIPNR, (environmental planning)
• Max Boyd, former Northern Rivers Catchment Management Board
• Roy Hayward, DIPNR, (geographic information systems)
• Jim Hindmarsh, NSW DPI, (agricultural land assessment)
• Michael Kennedy, DIPNR, (geographic information systems)
• David Morand, DIPNR, (soil survey)
• Graeme Short, DIPNR, (land resource mapping)
• Rik Whitehead, NSW DPI, (agricultural land use planning)
• Greg Yeates, DIPNR, (environmental planning)
Local government planning staff had input to project team meetings on a regular basis during the second and third stages of the project. Agricultural industry representatives were consulted during the project.
What does the project seek to do?
The Farmland Protection Project seeks to protect important farmland from urban and rural residential
development by mapping farmland and developing planning principles. The project team has endeavoured to put forward policies which can be of genuine long-term benefit to agriculture in the region without imposing unnecessary restrictions on farmers.
The project aims to protect a broad range of lands to cater for a range of agricultural industries that may be important currently or in the future, thereby keeping land options open for new crops and farming methods.
Urban and rural residential development will be limited on land identified by the project so that areas with the most potential for production are not lost to urban uses.
Farmland protection has the potential to provide a range of broad benefits. By keeping agricultural land available for farming, it will help to maintain the agricultural land resource in the long term. It will minimise farming/residential land use conflicts. Farmers, knowing whether their locality is to be protected from residential encroachment, will have greater certainty for investment in agriculture and sustainable land management systems.
The project will not force a change to current land use. There will be no requirement for agricultural activity to occur on land. The intention is to protect the land’s farming potential, so land uses that alienate farmland, such as residential development, will be limited. The main effect of the project will be that mapped farmland will be avoided in the planning process for future residential areas. The project will result in a greater level of certainty about the development potential of farmland.
The project does not aim to protect any scenic views associated with farmland. Its focus is on protecting the agricultural land resource for current and future production. The quality of any visual landscape has not been a criterion for identifying significant farmland.
What’s happened so far?
The project commenced in July 2002. The first stage began with the project team developing criteria for mapping lands suitable for agricultural protection. The mapping process is described at section 2. The team prepared draft maps using these criteria. Draft planning rules were developed as a starting point for discussion. In the first half of 2003, the draft maps and planning rules were presented to agricultural industries, local and state government and the broader community for discussion. The community consultation process is detailed in section 3. The first stage was coordinated by Lismore Living Centres.
During Stage 2, DIPNR implemented a policy to protect farmland as a holding measure while the project was being completed. The policy is a Section 117 Direction under the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, and is called the Section 117 Direction (January 2004) on interim protection for farmland of state and regional significance on the NSW far north coast. It prevents urban and rural residential rezoning of state or regionally significant farmland identified on maps dated January 2004, unless the land is within a settlement strategy agreed between councils and DIPNR. It refers to the maps which were drafted in the first stage of the project, using the methodology as developed at the time.
Stage 2 was a review phase. After examining the feedback which resulted from the 2003 community consultation, the project team reviewed the mapping methodology and the planning rules, taking into account the key themes which had emerged. Those themes are presented at section 3.
The reviewed draft maps and planning rules were placed on public exhibition between mid-August and the end of September 2004. The draft planning rules exhibited in the second stage focused on strategic planning rather than land use on farms, in response to community feedback given during the first consultation.
The third stage was a further review stage which examined community feedback received in response to the stage 2 consultation phase. This feedback guided the project team in developing the third stage maps and the planning recommendations in this Final Report. The key themes highlighted by the community in response to the 2004 maps and planning rules are at section 3. This stage also included an independent methodology review by CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems.
What happens next?
The Section 117 Direction on interim protection for farmland is currently still in place. As a next step, DIPNR intends to recommend to the Minister for Planning to update the Section 117 Direction to refer to the finalised maps and the planning principles proposed at section 4.
Again this would be an interim situation, pending the completion of the department’s Far North Coast Strategy, which is expected to be completed in late 2005. The Strategy, in planning for the region's next 30 years, will consider a range of issues including population growth, infrastructure, transport, housing affordability, coastal management, environmental protection and economic growth. The outcome of the farmland work will form one of many layers of the Strategy. The Section 117 Direction will be superseded by the Strategy.
2 THE MAPS
How the maps were developed
A detailed account of the methodology is available in a separate document as part of this package. The following is a summary.
The steps in the mapping process are summarised below:
Stage One (July 2002 to June 2003)
a) investigate available mapping data sets
b) identify preferred data set (soil landscape mapping) and criteria for identifying significant agricultural land
c) Initial selection of soil landscapes which meet criteria
d) identify draft criteria to differentiate selected soil landscapes as state, regional or local.
e) prepare preliminary draft maps based on draft criteria
f) observe the maps broadly for coverage, distribution and anomalies g) amend maps where required
h) workshop preliminary draft maps with local government planners, government agencies and industry bodies
i) identify cadastral boundaries of best fit for areas identified as state significant j) run sensitivity analysis to identify scale error for cadastral boundaries
k) workshop draft maps with the community in conjunction with draft planning rules
l) compile community feedback and submissions for consideration at review stage (Stage Two) Stage Two (July 2003 to August 2004)
m) check mapping anomalies and inconsistencies identified by public submissions and project team assessment
n) refine soil landscape selection/classification in response to previous step o) prepare revised draft maps applying refined selection/classification p) assess revised maps, check for anomalies and inconsistencies q) steps p) – r) repeated four times
r) prepare new draft maps, exhibit to the public with revised planning rules Stage Three (September 2004 to February 2005))
s) independent review of methodology
t) check for mapping anomalies and inconsistencies identified by public submissions u) soil landscape data review
v) refine soil landscape selection
w) refine distinction between state and regionally significant farmland x) final check of maps for consistency
y) print final maps
Soil landscape mapping
The first steps in the project were to investigate various mapping data and decide on a suitable method of identifying significant agricultural land. The method chosen by the project team was based on soil landscape mapping undertaken by the former Department of Land and Water Conservation (now DIPNR).
Soil landscape mapping uses soil, landforms and geology to identify soil landscapes. Descriptions of vegetation, land use, land degradation and rural and urban capability are included in each soil landscape description in the accompanying soil landscape reports (Morand 1994). Soil landscape mapping has nothing to do with ‘landscape’ in the visual or scenic sense. Soil landscapes are areas of land with unique landform features containing a characteristic set of soils. Since landscapes and their soils are formed by the same natural processes, soil landscapes are the best way of presenting soil and land resource information. A particular soil landscape can occur widely, or it can be unique to a small area. For example, the Ophir Glen soil landscape occurs in numerous small alluvial fans and valley in-fills throughout the Burringbar Hills, including near Mooball, Upper Burringbar, Crystal Creek and North Tumbulgum.
A major reason for using soil landscape mapping is that it uses a combination of criteria to identify a land’s rural capability - that is, the ability of land to sustain permanent agricultural or pastoral production without permanent damage. An additional major advantage of soil landscape mapping is that there is complete coverage of the Northern Rivers.
Soil landscape selection
The rural capability evaluations described in soil landscape reports have formed the basic criteria for selecting the soil landscapes to be included in the proposed farmland areas. Consideration was given to those with low to moderate limitations. These evaluations are a broad adaptation of the Rural Land Capability classes and generally refer to erosion and land degradation risk. This risk can be independent of agricultural quality.
Landform is also an important factor. For, example, soils on steep slopes, irrespective of their quality, will be subject to high erosion risk, and therefore would be given a less favourable rural land capability ranking than those areas of the same soils on gentler slopes. Consequently, using rural land capability alone is not feasible due to a variety of map units per land area and therefore fragmented nature of mapping. It was used as an initial indicator for lands suitable for inclusion in a farmland area. The additional factors of soil type, soil characteristics, drainage, mass movement risk, landform and land use history were also used to assist in choosing which soil landscapes were to be considered. Another important factor was the distinction between cultivation and grazing country. Good cultivation country is generally also good grazing country. However, good grazing country also includes those steeper soil landscapes that have high limitations for cultivation.
Soil landscape selections were reviewed during Stages Two and Three of the project. They were refined using feedback from community consultations and also after re-appraisal following field inspections or reconsideration of some of the borderline inclusions or exclusions.
Table 1 shows the characteristics of the soil landscapes which were selected as significant farmland.
Refining the maps
The task of developing the methodology involved a series of re-evaluations of mapping rules and production of a number of map versions. Refinement of the mapping continued throughout Stages Two and Three of the project in response to issues identified through consultations and by the project team. Public submissions referring to the mapping of specific properties were collated, details recorded and each query investigated.
Changes to the mapping during the review process were made on a ‘global’, data basis rather than on an individual property level. No individual property was excluded from the mapping. When a submission referred to a particular property, the whole soil landscape was assessed. If a decision was made that the particular soil landscape should be included or excluded, the maps were adjusted to reflect this change wherever that particular soil landscape occurred. A detailed account of the methodology and mapping rules can be found in the Stage Three Methodology Report.
TABLE ONE SELECTED SOIL LANDSCAPES FOR INCLUSION AS STATE AND REGIONALLY SIGNIFICANT FARMLAND More detailed information about selection of soil landscapes is in the Methodology Report 2005.
Soil Landscape Landform Slope
(Y or N)
(Y or N)
>1m (Y or N)
(Y or N)
Flood free (Y or N)
Current predominant ag land use
Dungarubba (du) Floodplain Y Y HG Y Poor Y N Grazing, sugar cane,
“ (dua) Levee Y Y BRE Y Moderate Y N
Eltham (el) Floodplain Y Y K Y Well drained Y N Grazing, soybeans, fodder
“ (ela) Floodplain Y Y K, PS Y Well drained Y N
“ (elb) Floodplain Y Y K, PS Y Well drained Y N
Empire Vale (ep) Floodplain Y Y PS Y Moderate Y N Sugar cane
“ (epb) Floodplain Y Y HG, PS Y Poor-moderate Y N Sugar cane
Leycester (le) Floodplain Y Y BE Y Moderate Y N Grazing, soybeans, fodder
Mullumbimby (mu) Floodplain Y Y BRE Y Moderate Y N Grazing, some sugar cane
Tatham (ta) Floodplain Y Y BC, GC Y Moderate Y N Grazing
Terania (te) Floodplain Y Y BRE Y Moderate Y N Grazing
Crabbes Creek (cr) Floodplain Y Y BRE Y Moderate Y N Grazing
Cudgera (cd) Floodplain Y Y YE, A Y Moderate Y N Grazing, sugar cane
Oxley (ox) Floodplain Y Y PS, A Y Moderate Y N Grazing
Rous (ru) Floodplain Y Y BRE, RE Y Moderate Y N Grazing
Tweed (tw) Floodplain Y Y HG Y Poor Y N Acid sulfate soils Sugar cane, some grazing
“ (twb) Floodplain/
sandplain Y Y PS N Moderate Y N Sand restricts soil
Brays Creek (bc) Floodplain Y Y PS, A Y Moderate Y N Stony soils common Grazing
Cobaki (cb) Estuarine plain Y Y HG Y Poor Y N Acid sulfate soils Sugar cane, grazing
Ewingsdale (ew) Low hills Y Y K Y Well drained Y Y Local run-on Grazing
McKee (mc) Low hills Y Y CS, PS N Well drained Y Y Grazing, dairy, poultry
“ (mca) Low hills Y N CS, PS N Well drained Y Y Grazing
Wollongbar (wo) Rises Y Y K Y Well drained Y Y Horticulture, grazing
“ (woa) Rises Y Y K Y Well drained Y Y Small topographic Horticulture, grazing
Soil Landscape Landform Slope
(Y or N)
(Y or N)
Type Soil Depth
>1m (Y or N)
(Y or N)
(Y or N) Other Constraints/
hazards Current predominant ag land use
“ (wob) Rises/low hills Y N K, PS N Well drained Y Y Small topographic
extent; localised rock and slopes>20%;
mixed soils. Soil depth is variable, but generally shallow.
Disputed Plain (dp) Fans, footslopes Y Y BE Y Moderate Y N Run-on Grazing
Myocum (my) Drainage plains Y Y BE, W Y Poor Y N Run-on Grazing
Tyagarah variant (tyc) Backbarrier plain Y Y HG Y Moderate Y N Sugar cane
Cudgen (cu) Rises Y Y K Y Well drained Y Y Localised stony soils Horticulture, vegetables
Carool variant (caa) Rises Y Y K Y Well drained Y Y Horticulture, vegetables
Bangalow (bg) Low hills N N K Y Well drained Y Y Localised:
slopes>25%; mass movement
Grazing, macadamias, bananas
Rosebank (ro) Rolling hills N N K, CS Y Well drained Y Y Localised:
slopes>25%; mass movement; rock outcrop.
" (rob) Rolling low hills/hills Y N K Y Well drained Y Y Grazing, horticulture
Ophir Glen variant (oga) Terrace Y Y RP Y Well drained Y Y Grazing
Frederick (fr) Rises, low hills Y Y PS, BE, K N Moderate Y Y Localised rock,
variation in soil depth Grazing Western Richmond Soil Landscapes - the following is based on draft information which in many cases is still awaiting field investigation. No lab data is currently available. Map linework is also subject to change.
Haystack Mountain (hm) Rises, low hills Y Y PS, CS, K Y Well drained Y Y Horticulture, grazing
" (hma) Bench surfaces Y Y PS, CS N Well drained Y Y Grazing
Roseberry (rb) Low hills, hills Y N CS, PS, BE Y Well drained Y Y Grazing
Frederick variant (fra) Rises Y Y K, PS Y Well drained Y Y Grazing
Horseshoe Station Creek (hs) Low hills, hills Y N CS, PS, BE N Well drained Y Y Grazing
Ironpot Creek (ir) Floodplains Y Y PS, BE, GP Y Moderate Y N Grazing
Group 4: soils with a high level of fertility in their virgin state, but this fertility is significantly reduced after only a few years of cultivation.
Physically, Krasnozems are better than most soils but they have some undesirable chemical features.
Group 5: soils with high fertility that generally only require treatment with chemical fertilisers after several years of cultivation.
(from Murphy et al. 2000) NOTES TO TABLE 1:
1. ‘Soil Type’ is the great soil group of Stace et al. (1968). The codes are:
Soils of high fertility (from Murphy et al. 2000):
CS Chocolate Soil K Krasnozem BC Brown Clay GC Grey Clay Group 5*
BE Black Earth PS Prairie Soil Other soils
HG Humic Gley BRE Brown Earth W Weisenboden A Alluvial Soil YE Yellow Earth RE Red Earth YP Yellow Podzolic Soil RP Red Podzolic Soil SH Soloth
P Podzol AP Acid Peat GP Gleyed Podzolic Soil
What the maps show
The policy map set has been derived from soil landscape data which was produced for use at a scale of 1:100,000 or smaller. The map set comprises four sheets at a scale of 1:100,000. Each grid is equivalent to 2,500 hectares.
The maps show three farmland categories: state significant (yellow), regionally significant (brown) and significant non-contiguous (hatched). Significant farmland boundaries reflect soil landscape boundaries. The maps are proposed to be reviewed in the future to incorporate any reviews of soil landscape data.
State and regionally significant farmland
The distinction between state and regionally significant farmland was established to recognise the diversity within the region’s ‘important’ farmland. There was a need to distinguish between very high quality and unique agricultural soils/lands and other lands that were also important to agriculture but which were more extensive and less productive generally per unit area.
This distinction allows greater flexibility in planning controls. Rules about urbanisation of farmland can afford stronger levels of protection to smaller unique significant areas compared to expansive areas that contain a more diverse range of soils, landscapes and opportunities for agriculture.
Table 1 lists the soil landscapes which were selected as significant farmland. Four of those soil landscapes were further identified as state significant due to the presence of the following attributes:
1. Slope generally less than 15%.
2. Consists predominantly of any of the following soil types:
Some Grey, Brown and Red Clays
These soils are groups 4 and 5 in Table 8.2 from Murphy et al. (2000). They are soils of high fertility. Group 4 soils have a high level of fertility in their virgin state which is significantly reduced after only a few years of cultivation. Group 5 soils generally only require treatment with chemical fertilisers after several years of cultivation. Physically, Krasnozems are better than most soils but they have some undesirable chemical features. Australian Soil Classification equivalents are Dermosols, Ferrosols and Vertosols. The above soils are generally characterised by well-developed structure, high fertility and good drainage.
3. Soils are generally deeper than 1 metre.
4. Well drained landscape.
5. Rock outcrop less than 10%.
6. Flood free.
7. Not affected by other constraints/hazards either within the soil landscape or originating in adjoining soil landscapes (eg: run-on, mass movement, localised flooding).
The soil landscapes generally consistent with these criteria are:
• Wollongbar variant (woa)
• Carool variant (caa) Contiguity
One of the criteria set by the Northern Rivers Catchment Blueprint was that ‘large contiguous areas of land’ be considered for farmland protection. ‘Contiguous’ is defined as ‘touching, in contact with, in close proximity, near.’ The need for contiguous areas is to assist with diversity, resilience, economies of scale and freedom from conflicts in agricultural areas.
To assist in identifying contiguous areas, mapping rules applying to minimum sizes of selected land units were developed. A minimum contiguous mass of state significant land was determined to be 500 hectares. The minimum size for a regionally significant land mass comprising an alluvial or alluvial-influenced soil landscape was set at 500 hectares. The minimum size for a regionally significant land mass on other soil landscapes was set at 1000 hectares. The minimum size rules are detailed in the Methodology Report.
The 2003 maps showed state, regional and locally significant land. On the 2004 maps, land previously identified as locally significant was excluded on the basis of the project’s regional nature and scale. These
‘local’ areas comprised lesser quality land, as well as better quality land units which were too small to be included as state or regionally significant, given the project’s emphasis on contiguity and the size rules referred to above.
However, exclusion of the fragmented, better quality units resulted in islands of valuable farmland not being given any protection or status at all by the project. So as not to overlook the local importance of these lands, the final maps identify soil landscape units which are selected as state or regionally significant, but are smaller than the minimum unit size and larger than 40 hectares. Those lands are identified as ‘significant non-
contiguous farmland’ and are shown hatched on the maps. Proposed planning principles applying to the various farmland categories are outlined in section 4.
Areas excluded from the maps are:
¾ State Forests and National Parks
¾ Water bodies
¾ Areas identified as having committed urban uses. These are indicated pink on the maps and equate to:
land zoned urban and rural residential,
rural land isolated within urban areas,
open space which is zoned open space or identified as open space in council strategies or plans,
roads and drains in urban areas,
environmental protection areas within urban areas,
land zoned private open space which allows urban uses,
land identified for urban (including industrial) purposes in a development control plan,
land zoned rural but used for urban purposes (eg airport, waste facility, industry).
Future settlement areas
Future settlement areas identified in councils’ settlement strategies are not shown on the maps. These areas are recognised through written planning rules in this report rather than as part of the mapping process. The maps include a text box as follows:
Land identified in an agreed council settlement strategy can be considered for urban or rural residential rezoning even if it is mapped as significant farmland. The council strategy must have been agreed to between December 1994 and December 2004 (or placed on public exhibition by the end of 2004 and subsequently approved) under clauses 20 or 38 of the North Coast Regional Environmental Plan. Land identified in a settlement strategy is not automatically approved for development; further investigations occur as part of the rezoning process. Agreed strategies can be seen at council offices.
Some areas identified as state or regionally significant include important habitat or remnant vegetation. While the maps indicate the existence of significant farmland, this should not mean agriculture should take
precedence over environmental values. A text box is included on the maps as follows:
Significant farmland status does not imply that vegetation and habitat values are secondary to agricultural values, or that land has to be used for agriculture.
Changes to the maps between 2004 and 2005
Feedback from the 2004 consultation suggested that the classification of some areas needed review. The final maps reflect the following revisions.
Soil landscape data revisions
On checking source soil landscape data for a number of areas, the data in the Lismore-Ballina maps (Morand 1994) appeared to contain some anomalies. These were due to the variable or dissected nature of some of the soil landscapes, and the gradual refinement of the soil landscape mapping process (the Lismore-Ballina map was the first to be completed within the Northern Rivers ). The Tyagarah (ty), Rosebank (ro), Wollongbar (wo) and Empire Vale (ep) soil landscapes were of particular concern.
The project team agreed that it would be of value to utilise reviewed data which is to become part of Version 2 of the published soil landscape maps. The review of soil landscapes utilised radiometric data, the latest colour aerial photography, latest geology maps and field work carried out since publication of the original 1994 maps.
The review focused on areas about which the project team had held reservations in terms of its agricultural value. Some of these areas had also been queried in submissions. Below is a list of soil landscape changes which consequently affected the Farmland Project maps.
• The Tyagarah soil landscape is found around the Tuckean Swamp area, west of Brunswick Heads, west of Byron Bay, near Tyagarah, northwest of Lennox Head, between Ballina and Lennox Head and near Newrybar Swamp. Most of it is poorly drained and has poor soils. However, an area extending from Newrybar south to the Ballina Nature Reserve, having a basaltic influence, was found to have better soils (Prairie Soils, Black Earths and Humic Gleys with associated Humus Podzols). The hydrology of this landscape has been altered by the establishment of an extensive drain network. This area was remapped as a new variant (tyc).
• The Rosebank soil landscape, extending over various districts north, northeast and south of Lismore was acknowledged to be steep in a number of areas. However, the overall presence of krasnozem
soils make the less steep parts of this soil landscape valuable for agriculture. The steeper (over 25%
slope) areas of this dissected soil landscape were remapped as Coolamon soil landscape, which comprises steep slopes on basalt – as found adjacent the northern side of the Coolamon Scenic Drive.
Parts of the Rosebank soil landscape around Bagotville and west of Mullumbimby were remapped as the Rosebank variant (roa) due to their long narrow ridge slopes.
In the Dorroughby area, some Rosebank soil landscape was remapped as Minyon (mi) because of its rhyolite geology.
• The Wollongbar soil landscape was originally mapped on the Alstonville Plateau and in smaller areas around Eureka, Modanville, Dunoon, and Rosebank plateaux. The Modanville, Dunoon and
Rosebank Plateaux were remapped as Wollongbar variant (wob) because of their more dissected landscapes which include shallower, stonier soils with localised rock outcrop. The Eureka, Fernleigh and Newrybar Plateaux remained in the Wollongbar soil landscape.
• The Empire Vale soil landscape comprises the coastal floodplain of the Richmond River, Maguires Creek and Emigrant Creek. Some variation was found between the eastern and western sections of this soil landscape, and immediately south of the Richmond River. An eastern strip and the area immediately south of the river were remapped as a new variant (epa) reflecting the poorly drained humic gley soils of that area which distinguish it from the rest of the Empire Vale soil landscape. The western area was mapped as epb, reflecting where estuarine soil materials have mixed with alluvial soil materials. A new estuarine variant, Burns Point variant (bpa), has replaced some of the area around Maguires Creek that was previously mapped as Empire Vale. Subsequent soil investigations have shown this area to be distinct from the Empire Vale soil landscape.
• The Mullumbimby soil landscape variant (mua) was created so as to distinguish the more estuarine conditions that occur in this part of the Brunswick catchment. This variant occurs north and east of Mullumbimby, with poorly drained Humic Gleys being a common soil.
• The description of the Bangalow soil landscape was slightly revised, resulting in the incorporation of some small Wollongbar variant (woa) polygons. These changes have not affected the farmland maps (although Bangalow soil landscape is now regional - see dot point below).
• Much of country mapped as McKee (mc) soil landscape in the draft Western Richmond soil landscape map included areas which were seen as anomalous and not conforming to the original McKee
landscape description. Further field work (currently in progress) will probably show that the soils are also different. These areas were remapped as two new soil landscapes - Roseberry (rb) and variant (rba), and Horse Station Creek (hs) and variant (hsa).
A more detailed account of the soil landscapes review is in the Stage Three Methodology Report. The review resulted in the following changes to Farmland maps
Changes from state significant to regionally significant
• The Bangalow soil landscape was reclassified from state to regionally significant. The widespread occurrence of slopes over 15% made it inconsistent with criteria for state significance.
• The Wollongbar variant (wob) was reclassified from state to regional, due to its shallower soils and rock outcrops rendering it inconsistent with the criteria for state significance. These units include land around Modanville, Rosebank and Dunoon Plateaux.
Changes from regionally significant to ‘other rural land’
The following soil landscapes were reclassified from regionally significant to ‘other rural land’ on further consideration of their qualities.
• The Ophir Glen (og) soil landscape is found as small alluvial fans throughout the Burringbar Range. Its high incidence of dispersive soils made it ultimately unsuitable for regional significance.
• The Disputed Plain soil landscape variant (dpa), also found as alluvial fans and valley infills within the hills north of Mullumbimby, was reclassified because of its poor soils.
• The Limpinwood (li) soil landscape north of Tyalgum and its variant (lia) were reclassified because of the incidence of localised steep and benched slopes with shallow, rocky soils.
• The Pumpenbill (pu) soil landscape, west of Tyalgum, was reclassified because of the incidence of shallow rocky soils.
• The Tyagarah (ty) soil landscape was reclassified because of its general poor drainage and soils. (The new tyc variant was assigned regional significance.)
• The Georgica (ge) soil landscape and its variants comprise much of the land between Lismore, Nimbin and Kyogle. They include substantial areas which are steep, with shallow, stony soils. These
qualities make them generally unsuitable for regional farmland status.
• The part of the Empire Vale (ep) soil landscape which was remapped as (epa) was given ‘other rural land’ status due to its poor drainage and estuarine influence.
• The Rosebank variant roa (see above) was reclassified because of its long, narrow and steep ridges
• The Everlasting (ev) soil landscape, comprising estuarine backswamps of the Richmond River, was reclassified because, despite some areas being used for cane, it is a swamp soil landscape.
• The part of the McKee (mc) soil landscape remapped as the Roseberry variant (rba) was reclassified because of its shallower soils. (The main Roseberry soil landscape was classified as regionally significant because of its expected deeper soils, but field investigation is still in progress for this map.)
• The part of the McKee soil landscape remapped as the Horse Station Creek variant (hsa) was reclassified because of its steeper slopes and shallower soils. The main Horse Station Creek soil landscape was given regional significance because of its expected deeper soils, but field investigation is still in progress.
• The McKee variant mcd was reclassified because it is now part of Horse Station Creek soil landscape variant (hsa).
• The North Casino (nc) soil landscape and its variant (nca), the Oxley variant (oxa), and the Tweed variant (twa) were reclassified because they comprise swamp landscapes. They were originally included as regional because of their small extent and occurrence within more agriculturally valuable soil landscapes.
• The Mount Burrell variant (mba) was reclassified because of its steep slope and rock outcrops.
• The Yorklea (yo) soil landscape and its variants (yoa) and (yob) were reclassified because of its poorer soils and drainage.
• The Kingscliff variant (kib) was reclassified because of its sandy soils.
• The Coolamon (co) soil landscape was reclassified because of its steep slopes and shallow soils.
• The Calico variant (cla) was reclassified because of its erodible, dispersive soils.
• The Afterlee (af) soil landscape was reclassified because of its poorer quality soils (field investigation still in progress).The Dyraaba Arm (da) soil landscape was reclassified because of its poorer quality soils (field investigation still in progress).
• The Ghinni Ghi (gh) soil landscape was reclassified because of its poorer quality soils (field investigation still in progress).
• The Cudgen variant (cua) was reclassified because it represents a narrow drainage depression within the Cudgen soil landscape.
As set out in the project workplan developed in 2003, the methodology was subjected to a peer review. CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems (CSE) was contracted to carry out the review. The review commenced in October 2004, focusing initially on the maps which had been exhibited in August and September of that year. As the Farmland Protection Project team responded to community feedback from the consultation, revisions were made to the methodology. The CSE review team took these revisions into account in their review. Additionally, the CSE review team made some recommendations during the process, which the Farmland project team incorporated into the final mapping.
The reviewers were asked to examine:
1. criteria applied for selecting the soil landscapes used to classify farmland of state and regional significance;
2. the scope and contribution of the consultation process and the extent to which this process influenced the final draft maps;
3. the consultation report;
4. the map validation method;
5. the use of a ‘master log’ for recording and dealing with issues arising from public submissions and ongoing project analysis; and
6. impurities and inherent limitations in the mapping process.
The CSE report provided the following conclusions and recommendations:
While the initial Soil Landscape classification and associated criteria were not as transparent as desirable as per current practice, the project team rectified this problem and provided clear criteria.
Revisions of criteria and mapping during the process.
A more rigorous assessment of Soil Landscape and other criteria before the consultation process
commenced may have reduced community uncertainty and concern. Subsequently, the project team have incorporated more recent information (notably radiometric data for some areas) and considered additional technical information in submissions and from other scientists to produce a revised methodology and mapping that reflects best available knowledge. Additional refinements can be expected in future. The team had the best available land resource scientists with long standing mapping experience.
Categories - State and regional.
The final maps show significant land defined by a rigorous and transparent classification system. It must be noted that the threshold for State significance is very high compared with other jurisdictions.
The mapping scale is smaller than that commonly applied for these purposes where maps at 1:25000 or 1:50000 are common. In combination with the contiguity and polygon size thresholds, this means that some significant land will not be defined for protection and that inevitably there will be inliers of land of lower quality. The methodology does however ensure that large contiguous areas of farmland will be protected for the future. The boundary review process, which incorporates finer scaled land capability mapping, will significantly alleviate the spatial resolution problem when urban land conversion proposals are considered in close proximity to significant farmland
The project team employed a comprehensive and appropriate process and took action to incorporate suggestions wherever relevant and legitimate in terms of the policy framework. (Many economic and land development opinions cannot be resolved in this assessment process.)
Overall approach/methodology for the determination of significant landscapes
The criteria for selecting soil landscapes as important farmland is well defined in the final version of Table 1 in the Methodology document. Based on the published and unpublished soil landscape mapping, the criteria outlined in Table 1 and the rules of contiguity defined in methodology, the rules for selecting important farmland have been consistently applied across the mapped area of the Northern Rivers.
A further condition for land to be considered as significant farmland was the size rule of minimum contiguous areas of 500 ha. This was based on a rather arbitrary premise that 500 ha represents a reasonable-sized cluster with efficient workable areas for intensive farming on the best farmland. It also aims to avoid conflict where agricultural land is actually or potentially fragmented by urban or rural residential settlement. As a result of this rule, significant agricultural land may not be protected and a further category called significant non-contiguous areas was formed - the protection of which becomes the responsibility of local councils/agencies. The reviewers believe that it would be possible that novel agricultural/horticultural industries may develop below the minimum contiguous area size of 500 ha and important soil landscapes should be protected. Examples of this may be seen in European countries such as Switzerland and Holland.
Applicability to other regions
Due to the influences of the Mt Warning shield volcano in soil landscape development, the NSW Northern Rivers landscape is arguably more complex than other areas of NSW. The approach that the Northern Rivers Farmland Project team has undertaken to select significant soil landscapes has been influenced by the availability of published and unpublished (draft) soil landscape maps for the northern rivers region of NSW and the skills of an experienced soil surveyor (David Morand). The applicability of this approach to other regions will vary depending on circumstances and the availability of soil landscape mapping and skilled staff. While soil landscapes in other regions of the state are likely to be less complex than the Northern Rivers region, the availability of soil landscape mapping may be a limitation to applying this methodology widely.
In a review by Thompson and Beckman (1986) there was limited evidence to suggest that soil taxonomy was relevant to broadscale land use planning in south-eastern Queensland. The review found that while soil taxonomy is able to separate soils that are different from one another, it could separate soils that have similar land use potential. Many of the attributes used in soil taxonomy seem to have little relevance to local land use while other attributes of known local importance were not used. Soil types may not be useful categories in themselves, but to the extent that they correlate with agriculturally relevant parameters such as soil depth, fertility etc, they can provide the basis for capability and significance ratings. For example, some of the criteria Thompson and Beckman suggested as important to land use in southern Queensland included: depth of soil; A-horizon depth ; surface condition; water holding capacity; presence of stone or stony bands in the profile; amounts of gravel and concretions throughout the profile. Other local data such as soil moisture regimes, depth classes, temperature classes and sodicity should also be considered and these will depend on the local circumstances.
Future methodology for farmland protection would benefit from including additional agriculturally relevant soil based criteria, especially locally significant indicators. e.g salinity risk in risk prone areas. Further consultation of the literature (see reference list) is encouraged
3 CONSULTATION: WHAT WE LEARNT
The Farmland Protection Project included two consultation periods. The consultations aimed to:
• inform people about the project and provide them with opportunity to provide input into the project
• seek feedback about the selection of farmland areas
• seek feedback on the planning rules
• identify issues that had been overlooked in the development of the project The 2003 consultation
The first, 2003 phase, presented draft maps derived from a variety of sources including cadastral information and some LEP agricultural protection zones. The maps showed state, regionally and locally significant agricultural land. The maps were accompanied by ideas for planning rules restricting new housing entitlements and rural subdivision on farmland. The draft also suggested restricting various other developments on farmland including workers dwellings and most tourism. A detailed account of the 2003 consultation is in the Farmland Protection Project Consultation Report, October 2003.
The community was engaged by the following means:
• community forum (evening meetings in Ballina, Condong, Casino, and Mullumbimby)
• agricultural industry forum ( Casino, Murwillumbah - representatives from the following industries:
sugar, dairy, macadamias, soy, forestry, coffee, bananas, beef, ti-tree, olives, stone fruit, avocados, passionfruit, bush foods, custard apples, citrus, mangoes, herbs, and organic producers)
• local government planning staff forum
• state government (former Department of Land and Water Conservation, former NSW Agriculture, National Parks and Wildlife Service) forum
• Exhibition at local government offices
• Exhibition on the internet
• Radio interviews on ABC Rural Report
• Local and regional newspapers
• Television coverage (Prime News)
• Fact sheets
The consultation ran from 13 May until 30 June, 2003. Submissions were received electronically and in hard copy, on feedback forms and by letter. A total of 94 written submissions were received during the submission period, and 171 people attended community forums.
Key themes in 2003
Although the community expressed diverse views about how to protect agricultural land, the majority response to the project was positive and constructive. A high level of support was expressed for the principle of preserving farmland. Several key themes emerged, around which a diversity of voices was heard. The project team in reviewing the draft planning rules endeavoured to address these key themes, outlined below. Text in italics indicate how the themes were addressed in stage 2 of the project.
Agricultural viability and profitability
A clear message emerged that many farmers are experiencing serious difficulties in making a living from their land. Some people asked why farmland should be preserved. At the same time, many felt it was important to preserve productive land for the future, particularly at Alstonville and Cudgen. Another clear message was that farm diversification can assist viability, and that the system should support this.
Subsequent draft planning rules focused on strategic planning rather than imposing new restrictions on farm use. The 2004 Proposals Report recommended that councils could permit developments such as farm bed and breakfasts, rural (value-adding) industry, produce markets, farm-related tourism and on-farm restaurants in farmland areas. The report also included a section on further ways in which agriculture might be protected. It highlighted some existing areas of assistance for farmers, as well as additional potential mechanisms. That section is included in this Final Recommendations Report as section 5.
Land values and financial issues
Many people were concerned that speculation is driving land prices up, disadvantaging farmers by making it difficult to buy farming land. This was seen as demoralising for farmers in areas where more money could be made in subdivision than in farming. On the other hand, many other people believed that any lack of increase in land prices resulting from the project would be a negative outcome.
Advice from the valuation industry indicated that the existence of policies which influence whether the land might be rezoned at some point in the future does not play a critical role, as the valuation focuses on the current planning situation rather than a hypothetical future scenario. It is therefore doubtful whether
‘devaluation’ of land would occur.
Many people felt that blanket land use controls create impediments to farmers, and that a variety of land uses are suitable for different areas. Several people advocated locality planning.
The project team reviewed the draft land use codes which had been exhibited in 2003, aiming for an approach which was flexible enough to respond to local issues while maintaining an overall strategic approach based on the protection of significant agricultural land. Subsequent recommendations placed responsibility for land use controls in rural zones with local government, thus enabling a more locally responsive approach.
Extent of regulation
Many people believed existing planning controls already protect agricultural land, and that farmers have too many restrictions. On the other hand, many people supported the draft planning controls fully. While most people support agricultural land protection, there is a resistance to tighter rules about permissible land uses, subdivision, dwellings and workers dwellings.
In subsequent stages, the project team endeavoured to formulate planning rules which could prevent important agricultural land being lost to urban and rural residential development while allowing farmers the freedom to carry out their rural activities without adding any unnecessary impediments. The project’s emphasis turned to strategic urban planning rather than prescribing rules about on-farm uses in rural zones. The project team resolved not to recommend new rules about subdivision of land zoned rural, or dwellings on rural land, or uses of land zoned rural but to recommend that these matters remain under councils’ local environmental plans (LEPs).
Land use conflict
Land use conflict is a serious problem for farmers. Farmers should be able to farm without the threat of conflict with residential encroachment. The issue of how to manage the interface of agricultural and residential land was raised often. The use of buffer zones was widely advocated. Coordinated strategic planning and a precautionary approach by local and state government were seen as important.
The subsequent 2004 Proposals Report recommended strategic planning controls to avoid the creation of potential land use conflict situations. These draft controls included the principle of buffers being established outside farmland areas where new development expands towards a farmland area, and conflict risk assessments being undertaken where new development is established within a farmland area.
The importance of the family farm was emphasised by many people. Many said the ability to build additional dwellings on a property was important in keeping family members on the farm. The project proposed that boundary adjustments could occur which excised a small lot with a house while the residue was amalgamated with a neighbouring farm. This approach was supported in feedback.
DIPNR subsequently encouraged councils by letter to include provisions in their local environmental plan to allow applicants to apply for boundary adjustments as outlined above.
Local and state decision-making
Some people felt that local government could not be trusted to act impartially to protect agricultural land, and that state government was more responsible. Others felt that agricultural production should be left with local government, and that the project came from a centralised bureaucracy based in Sydney. Clear roles should be identified for local and state government, unified by a clear set of principles.
The project subsequently identified clear roles for state and local government. The 2004 Proposals Report recommended that the state government focus on protecting farmland by strategic settlement planning, while local government retain responsibility for land use controls in rural zones.
Many people were concerned about how environmental values of agricultural lands could be protected in a farmland area. Concern was expressed that environmental values may be considered secondary. The issue of unmanaged land came up frequently, as did weed issues. Some people felt that environmental management issues were strongly linked to farm viability.
The subsequent 2004 maps included a text box indicating that significant farmland status does not imply that vegetation and habitat values are secondary to agricultural values, or that land has to be used for agriculture.
Mapping and land classification
Some people expressed doubt about the accuracy of the mapping. Many properties or districts were recommended for review - some for inclusion in the project and others for exclusion.
The project team reviewed the methodology, using feedback from submissions as well as its own observations.
Many submissions suggested that more information and consultation would be necessary to allow rural communities to become aware of the project.
The next (2004) consultation was designed to maximise participation. Efforts were made to notify all rural landowners about the project by mail. All-day information stalls were conducted in eight locations to increase flexibility and convenience for community members wishing to talk with the project team. Additionally, all
people who wrote submissions or registered their names at public meetings or left their details by telephone were kept informed as the project continued.
Several people commented on the importance of planning for population growth in areas not needed for agriculture. Many pointed to the need to control urban sprawl.
The project team consulted local government planning staff on an on-going basis to ensure a consistent and compatible relationship between councils’ strategic planning work and the Farmland Project.
Regional economic issues
The point was made that agriculture is a valuable contributor to the regional economy, and that a region’s ability to produce food is important. However, some people felt that residential growth provides more jobs than agriculture. Many submissions identified the need for technical information and extension services, which could bring regional economic benefits through assisting farmers.
The 2004 Proposals Report included a section on further ways in which agriculture might be protected. It highlighted some existing areas of assistance for farmers, as well as additional potential mechanisms.
The 2004 consultation
After considering the key themes which arose in 2003, the project team reviewed the mapping methodology and drafted new planning rules which addressed those themes where possible. The new draft maps and planning rules were placed on public exhibition between 12 August and 30 September. A detailed account of the 2004 consultation can be seen in the Farmland Protection Project Consultation Report, 2004. A summary of that report was mailed to all those who had written submissions or expressed interest in being updated about the project. The full report was available upon request.
Feedback in 2003 had suggested that not enough landholders were made aware of the project. As a response, efforts were made to notify all rural landholders of the 2004 consultation. An information flyer was inserted with rate notices for Ballina Council and Richmond Valley residents. Rural occupants in Byron Shire received the flyer through Australia Post direct mailing. An advertisement was placed in the council
newsletters for Tweed, Lismore and Kyogle Councils. People who had written submissions in the previous consultation were advised by letter that the new draft maps were on exhibition. Additionally, all those who had asked at meetings or by telephone to be kept informed received a letter of notification.
The maps were exhibited at Tweed, Lismore, Kyogle, Richmond Valley, Ballina and Byron council offices, as well as at DIPNR offices in Grafton, Alstonville and Murwillumbah and the DPI office in Wollongbar. Copies of a Proposals Report giving an overview of the project and outlining proposed planning rules were available, along with a summary document and a Methodology Report describing in detail how the maps had been developed.
An internet site was developed for the project showing the maps and reports. However, on-going technical problems made the site difficult to access for many people. The project team sent compact discs of the exhibited material to people who requested this. Television, radio and press coverage accompanied the consultation.
To provide flexibility for community members, the project team held information days in Cudgen, Alstonville, Murwillumbah, Woodburn, Kyogle, Casino, Bangalow and Dunoon. Team members were available throughout
the day to answer questions, discuss the maps and provide information. Approximately 250 people attended information days.
Submissions were received by mail, by email, by telephone and as comments at information days, both verbally and in the comments book provided. The project team received a total of 95 submissions.
The project team offered to present the draft maps and reports to a range of agricultural industry groups.
Several organisations took up the offer including NSW Farmers, NSW Cane-Growers Association, North Coast Horticultural Producers Consultative Committee and Byron Creek Landcare. The project was exhibited at the Lismore Organic Produce Market.
Key themes in 2004
Key themes which arose from the 2004 consultation are below. The text in italics indicates the project team’s response or any action proposed to address the issue. Page numbers indicate the location in this report of any proposed action.
Mapping/methodology: indication of future settlement areas on farmland maps
Some submissions urged that future settlement areas be shown on the farmland maps so people can see clearly which land is able to be considered for development.
To give the community a clearer picture about which land can be considered for future development, a box is be included on the farmland maps stating:
‘Land identified in an agreed council settlement strategy can be considered for urban or rural residential rezoning even if it is mapped as state or regionally significant farmland. The council strategy must have been agreed to between December 1994 and December 2004 under clauses 20 or 38 of the North Coast Regional Environmental Plan (or placed on public exhibition by the end of 2004 and subsequently approved. Land identified in a settlement strategy is not automatically approved for development; further investigations occur as part of the rezoning process. Agreed strategies can be seen at council offices.’
Mapping/methodology: adequacy of the criteria
Some people argued that the soil landscape methodology is too narrow for identifying significant farmland and is not useful in identifying all of the factors that limit agricultural production on a particular parcel of land. They pointed to the NSW Agricultural Lands Classification system as superior, on the basis that it takes a greater range of factors into account.
The farmland maps continue to be based on soil landscape mapping. The Farmland Protection Project’s emphasis is on long-term protection of the agricultural land resource. It does not take into account factors which are relevant in the short-term such as availability of labour, availability and cost of land locally and elsewhere, local farming and marketing structures or the presence of local supporting infrastructure. NSW Land Classification criteria can be used to provide finer detail when verifying boundaries. NSW Agricultural Suitability mapping if available should be used additionally by councils in their planning to provide a greater level of information.
Mapping/methodology: the need for more detailed assessment of farmland areas for exclusion from mapping A large number of submissions called for the project to allow on-going assessment and verification of the farmland mapping, as the mapping’s broad scale makes it subject to inaccuracies on a property level.