By Growcom CEO Pat Hannan

PRIME agricultural land is an irreplaceable asset that must be protected for future generations particularly in a rich farming state like Queensland. Without proper efforts to preserve existing farming land, food security becomes at risk and diminishes export opportunities. In recent news, Central Highlands Regional Council has committed to putting constraints on renewable energy on prime agricultural land.

The local farming community expressed frustration after a solar farm was approved on high-value irrigation land under code-assessable legislation in September last year. This led to the implementation of a temporary land use planning instrument (TLPI), which protects land within the irrigation scheme from the development of renewable energy facilities.

From now on, any  changes on prime agricultural land will require public notification as part of the application process so members of the local community have a chance to have their say. In the past, efforts to safeguard prime agricultural land from large-scale solar energy projects have been insufficient.

Construction has already begun on the Emerald Solar Park in Central Highlands, which counts for 160 hectares (395 acres) of prime agricultural land. Local Mayor Kerry Hayes has opposed the project saying, “It’s just crazy to have (solar and irrigated agriculture) in the same spot”.

Meanwhile in Chinchilla, a melon grower and member of Growcom continues to face uncertainty following the development of a 264-hectare (652 acres) solar plant on neighbouring land, just metres away from paddocks used for watermelon cropping. There is no doubt of the benefits of renewable energy projects in farming regions but the placement of these facilities needs to be more strategic and sensibly planned.

There is a need for an improved and simplified planning framework for the protection of agricultural land from all development that would remove productive land from production or diminish the ability to use adjacent agricultural land for production. Certainly, growers would like to make use of renewable energy to benefit their practices but not at the loss of their livelihoods. More guidance is needed to ensure the consistent assessment and conditioning of these facilities across local council areas and Growcom has been working with the QFF’s  to push for clear planning guidelines for local government.