VICTORIAN and Tasmanian farmer peak bodies have produced a policy for developers who want to build infrastructure, such as transmission lines for renewable energy, across their farmland.


They were warned that since the year 2000, Australia’s available arable land had been reduced by 15 per cent, much of it lost to infrastructure development and urban sprawl.


The policy has been released as Gippsland farmers face plans for pipelines and transmission lines across their land as part of the state government’s energy policy, which aims to link offshore wind farms to the Latrobe Valley energy network.


The ‘Farm Access Code of Conduct’, drawn up by the Victorian Farmers Federation and TasFarmers, aims to promote respectful and sensible infrastructure on agricultural land.


The VFF president, Emma Germano, and TasFarmers president, Ian Sauer, said as population grows, there was an increased need for more roads, pipelines, electricity networks and mining exploration to deliver services and drive economic growth.


“In addition, ambitious emissions reduction targets are resulting in the rapid and unplanned expansion of renewable energy infrastructure, including transmission lines, across the country,” the two leaders said in a joint statement.


“Much of this expansion is criss-crossing agricultural land, which has a direct impact on farmers economically, socially and environmentally. In many cases, this land is highly productive, supporting and sustaining regional communities as well as being critical to our nation’s food security. The land is rare and cannot be replaced.”


The code states that in planning infrastructure, greater consideration must be given to its impact on food and fibre production, and the impact on communities and landholders.


“Landholders deserve trust and understanding when interacting with development proponents,” the code says.


“A strong relationship with the proponent ensures a landholder’s rights are maintained and allows them to make informed decisions.”


The code covers many clauses. These include:


The landholder will have enough time to get legal advice;


The proponent will conduct a comprehensive risk assessment before work starts and inform the landholder in writing how they will manage the risks in a land access and compensation plan;


The proponent will discuss general logistics and agree on a written project timeline and compensation agreement before work starts;


All stakeholders to be given independent briefings of relevant regulations and legislation at the proponent’s expense;


Where impacts can’t be avoided, the proponent must compensate the landholder through a negotiated land access and compensation agreement;


At a minimum, the proponent must have a basic understanding of farms as workplaces;


The proponent should accept the landholder’s knowledge of the property and incorporate this into the project design;


The proponent will inform the wider community about the project;


The landholder can refuse access based on weather conditions, lambing, calving, spraying, cultivating and cropping, among other factors;


Rehabilitation: the proponent will deactivate the site and ensure the land will be returned to how it was or the prior agreed condition;


Any dispute between the landholder and the proponent arising from the code will be resolved by an independent mediator;


Acknowledgement of the intergenerational succession value of the land, and;


If rehabilitation can be done, the proponent will shelve their proposal due to the risk of losing prime agricultural land.


The two farming groups said high-level cooperation must include face-to-face engagement and on-ground communication.


“If the proponent is unable to locate the landholder, they must not enter the property or begin work in any form,” they said.


“The proponent will nominate a project liaison officer for the landholder to contact for the duration of the project.”