In 1984, The Ian Potter Foundation initiated a three-year program aimed at demonstrating methods for ecologically and economically sustainable farming. This project was instrumental in the development of Landcare, as well as tremendously influential on public policy. It proved that farmers could address some of the main causes of land degradation and work within the bounds of sustainability, whilst still gaining maximum production from their properties.
Pat Feilman, then Secretary of the Foundation, approached the School of Botany at the University of Melbourne for ideas on a substantial and lasting program on land degradation. A documentary screened on the ABC in 1984, focusing on soil erosion and land degradation, further inspired the Ian Potter Foundation’s Governors. The Potter Farmland Plan was established with an initial grant of $250,000 per annum for a three-year period, and established demonstration projects on 15 existing farms in the Western District of Victoria.
From the very beginning, the Potter Farmland Plan involved consultation and representation from those who would be most affected by it – the farmers. The area chosen for initial demonstrations was heavily affected by land degradation; more than 80% of the trees had been removed and the area suffered widespread erosion and heavy salinity, common problems in many Australian farming regions. Farmers were bombarded by conflicting messages from bodies with different criteria and priorities, insisting on different styles of replanting. The initial meetings brought farmers together with representatives of state and federal government departments, conservation groups such as the Farm Tree Groups and other interested bodies.
Following the initial consultations, farmers themselves established the criteria for selection of demonstration farms. It was agreed that a range of different sizes of farms would be selected, from a variety of circumstances and that the farms should be accessible to visitors. Public meetings were then called to ascertain the level of interest in the farming community, and 15 farms were chosen from over 60 applicants. The farmers were responsible for one-third of the costs of the work on their farms – including tree planting, pasture establishment and fencing – and the Foundation was the primary contributor of the balance of costs, as well as meeting the costs of administration and publicity. As time went on and their confidence in the management of the planning process increased, many farmers exceeded the required level of contribution. The Plan also extended to involve farms in Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.
One vital component of the Potter Farmland Plan was the recognition that the farming community, and their attitude to the land, were the most crucial part of the project. Each individual farmer could concentrate on their own farm plan, depending on his or her land, style of management and type of stock. The farmers involved became advocates for the techniques used in the program, as their land began to show results such as better drained pasture, more capacity for stock and a decreased need for pesticides. Over 200,000 trees were planted and 200 kilometres of new fences installed, protecting water courses, creating habitat and assisting healthy production. The project was also rigorously externally evaluated. The Gallery of the Secretariat for International Landcare site shows the remarkable progress of “Helm View”, a Potter Farmland Plan property, from the late 1960s to 2005.
By 1990, over 5000 people – both from Australia and overseas – had visited the Potter demonstration farms, and the Foundation was concentrating on disseminating the message. This was done through field days, whole-farm planning courses for farmers, publications, talks and a video and guide, ‘On Borrowed Time – A Guide to the Potter Farmland Plan’. The Potter Farmland Plan was one of the inspirations for the Landcare movement, which started in Victoria but expanded to a national movement. The Potter Farmland Plan project manager, Andrew Campbell, went on to become National Landcare Facilitator in 1989, and helped to spread the ideas behind the Potter Farmland Plan movement around Australia.
The Potter Farmland Plan enabled farmers to work with the resources on their particular properties, to conserve and protect that land for the future, and to prioritise natural resource management while still maximizing productivity. In disseminating practical information on the techniques of sustainable farm management, the program has had a wide and lasting effect. In 2005/06, The Ian Potter Foundation funded ‘The Potter Farmland Project – Past, Present and Future’, to examine the continuing impact of the Farmland Plan in the 20 years since its implementation, understand the changes that have taken place in that time and to ensure the project’s lasting effect.
The Ian Potter Foundation Annual Report, 2005/2006
Sandilands, Jane. ‘After Potter: A View of the Potter Farmland Project’. Philanthropy, no. 2 (July 1989)
Sandilands, Jane. On Borrowed Time: A Guide to the Potter Farmland Plan. The Ian Potter Foundation, 1990.
Yule, Peter. Ian Potter: financier, philanthropist and patron of the arts. The Miegunyah Press, 2006.
Mar. 16, 2007
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