In Queensland, we continue to see the permanent loss of the best farm land in the state to manufacturing, industrial uses, urban sprawl, services, utilities, and increasingly, mining. But to feed, clothe and grow amenity and renewable fuel for the state’s increasing population, we must preserve and sustainably intensify production on the limited prime agricultural land we have.
In 2018, an additional 44,300sq km was made available for mineral, petroleum, gas, and coal resource exploration in Queensland – more than double the 19,140sq km of land that was opened up in 2017. Cane and horticulture farmers in the Bundaberg region have recently been dealing with the impacts of this encroachment with 3,000 hectares of gas exploration licences acquired by oil and gas exploration company Blue Energy. Two of these permits that were due for renewal on December 31, 2018 and have since expired and will not be renewed. A third permit will expire on March 31 this year and cannot be renewed.
Local farmers were rightfully concerned about the potential impacts of unconventional gas development on agricultural production and the environment. The Gas and the Wide Bay Burnett Economy report compiled by the Australia Institute estimated that for every gas job created, 1.8 jobs in agriculture were lost. Studies of other gas areas revealed that 155 coal seam gas wells on 11,500ha of agricultural land reduced output by 7 per cent on average. There are also concerns regarding mining’s reliance on and potential contamination of coastal groundwater tables and surface water rivers used for intensive agriculture.
While thousands of hectares of prime agricultural land remain available for resource exploration, industry groups, Traditional Owners, tourism operators and town residents will be strong and influential allies in ensuring the best agricultural land can maintain long term, uninterrupted agricultural production. This land is rare and irreplaceable, and if we are to fulfil the noble goal of feeding, clothing, fuelling and healing the world we must stop taking it for granted.