We know that the future of coal will be front of mind in the upcoming Upper Hunter by-election, but what about the future of farming? Whether it's from renewable or traditional sources, energy generation will still need to coexist with agriculture - another of the Upper Hunter's economic 'engines'.
Land use planning will be one of the key battlegrounds for farming over the coming decade. With five new Renewable Energy Zones (REZs) on the horizon in NSW, farmers need assurance that the state's most productive land will be preserved for agriculture.
Whilst welcomed, a sharpened focus on renewable energy means farmers face potential land fragmentation, operational limitations, and even land devaluations. Political leaders and decision-makers will play a critical role in shaping how land will be used to house new linear infrastructure such as gridlines and gas and water pipelines, or the expansion of existing energy sources.
Infrastructure developers will be motivated by cost and efficiency shortcuts, but strong political leadership can ensure that when gas, power and mining are considered, the finite resources that underpin food and fibre production will be protected. Our best agricultural land should never be subject to erosion for the short term profits or convenience of those involved in planning and constructing infrastructure.
Politicians and decision-makers will need to wrestle with mounting pressure to transition to renewable energy sources while also safeguarding jobs and protecting regional communities. We urge them to always consider the long-term future of regional NSW's economic backbone, agriculture. Without it, there will be fewer regional towns to light.
Agriculture and energy generation can coexist. But a smart planning system is foundational to the two functioning in harmony. We look forward to meeting the candidates of the Upper Hunter by-election and learning their position on issues pertinent to agriculture, including land-use planning.
- James Jackson, NSW Farmers Association president