We don’t need laws to tell farmers to like trees

If you ask the strident environmental lobby they will tell you that farmers basically hate trees. They will paint a picture of a stereotypical farmer who wants to bulldoze his land for his own short-term economic gain, with no thought of the longer term environmental costs. This is the reason that we apparently need punitive native vegetation legislation across the country.

A recent study by UWA academics¹ has debunked this myth, concluding that farmers actually like trees. The study examined 7,200 property sales in Victoria since 1992 and found that farmers “on average, pay more for land that includes a proportion of woody native vegetation on it compared with land that is fully cleared”. The authors suggested a number of reasons for this result, including the high amenity value of woody native vegetation and its contribution to agricultural production.

This begs the question – if the private market values native vegetation, why does government have to interfere at all? The above study concluded that “there is scope for improved targeting of investment in the study region by incorporating the private benefits of environmental projects”. In other words, the free market has a role to play in environmental protection and farmers themselves have a commercial incentive to engage in sustainable environmental management practices. Who would have thought?

Rather than stripping away private property rights by imposing punitive native vegetation legislation, perhaps we would achieve better environmental outcomes by actually working cooperatively with our farmers. But – of course – common sense and environmental protection aren’t phrases that are natural partners in Australian public policy.

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