The draft primary production and rural development policy is bad news for Maitland's small farmers

AT RISK: Local food identity Amorelle Dempster believes Maitland's Slow Earth Food Market could be at risk because of government red tape. Picture: Simone De Peak.
AT RISK: Local food identity Amorelle Dempster believes Maitland's Slow Earth Food Market could be at risk because of government red tape. Picture: Simone De Peak.

The face of Maitland’s Slow Food movement, Amorelle Dempster, fears our fresh food revolution will be ripped apart if the state government proceeds with plans to put more red tape on small producers.

Ms Dempster said the proposed NSW primary production and rural development policy – which will govern farming in the region alongside the Hunter Regional Plan 2036 – had taken out small-scale and artisanal farming “with one foul sweep” when it put them into the intensive farming category which requires council approval to be able to operate. 

That category encompasses everything from moderately sized livestock farms to large-scale operations. 

Parliamentary Secretary for the Hunter Scot MacDonald is also concerned and thinks areas like Maitland may not have been considered when the proposed statewide policy was drafted.

“It is something I have been wondering about because intensive developments normally require development consent - for very good reasons,” he said.

The Hunter Regional Plan, which came into effect last year, offered small-scale growers a raft of opportunities across the country and in the emerging Asian markets, but the proposed policy has taken it away. 

Ms Dempster said the draft policy favoured large-scale intensive farming which happened away from suburbia and didn’t have as many hurdles to gain approval. 

She said new farms near residential areas would have a hard time convincing the council to give them the green light. Meanwhile existing farms remain under pressure to co-exist with residential developments, she said.

If the proposed policy is implemented Ms Dempster said the Slow Food Earth Market in The Levee would be on the chopping block.

“We will simply not have farmers to supply the market – it’s difficult as it is and there are no incentives for young people to access land for farming,” she said.

“The policy does not take into consideration the growing demand by consumers to have access to locally grown and seasonal food.

“There is no framework in the new policy to identify small-scale farmers who are free range or use sustainable land management practices so they are not compared with those who breed animals using large-scale industrialised farming systems or large-scale monoculture in fruit and vegetable production.”

Farms that will have to obtain council approval include cattle feedlots with the capacity to accommodate a heard of 50 or more; pig farms with 200 or more pics or more than 20 breeding sows; sheep and goat feedlots with room for more than 200 animals; and egg and poultry farms with the capacity to house more than 1000 birds.

Any cattle, sheep, or goat feedlot, pig farm, or egg or poultry farm within 500 metres of neighbours and within an environmentally sensitive area will also have to obtain consent.