In the early 2000s, the New South Wales government set up the Northern Rivers Farmland Protection Project (NRFPP) to support strategic planning. The Northern Rivers Farmland Protection Project includes land in the Tweed, Byron, Ballina, Lismore, Kyogle and Richmond Valley, which was sorted into four primary categories including State Significant Farmland.
Criteria used to identify State Significant Farmland include but are not limited to:
- slope – less than 15%
- soil types
- soil depth (generally deeper than 1m)
- rock outcrop – less than 10%
- flood free
- not affected by other constraints or hazards (ie mass movement)
- contiguity – a minimum contiguous mass of 500 hectares was prescribed
A CSIRO peer review undertaken during the process of developing the NRFPP identified that the 500ha threshold was arbitrary and not necessarily reflective of the minimum contiguous size for protection. This introduced a further land classification subsection for areas possessing the qualities of State Significant Farmland being less than 500 contiguous hectares.
Areas containing significant environmental features (ie national parks, waterways) or identified or used for non-agricultural urban, open space or rural residential uses are excluded from the maps.
NRFFP mapping and recommendations are largely embodied in the North Coast Regional Plan 2036 (released in 2017) and complemented by the Important Farmland Interim Variation Criteria and Ministerial Direction 9.4.
Of significance, a boundary review process is included noting the limitation of spatial resolution across the study area.
This Strategic Boundary Review Criteria is then further augmented through the Important Farmland Variation Criteria contained within the North Coast Regional Plan 2036. Collectively, these provisions acknowledge the limitations and scale of the mapping, and that agricultural production may not be suitable on some small pockets of mapped important farmland due to non-biophysical factors.
Cudgen Connection satisfies the following criteria for land suitable for uses other than farmland.
Unlike the remainder of the Cudgen Plateau, the Cudgen Connection site is bordered by non-agricultural uses on three sides and Cudgen Road on the fourth. Accordingly, the land is now isolated from other important farmland.
When accounting for buffers to avoid land use conflict, as detailed below, the site is not identified as capable of supporting sustainable agricultural production.
Land use conflict
To mitigate the potential for land use conflict, incoming land uses need to establish buffers to existing surrounding land uses. The location of existing urban development is closer than established buffer areas for primary production agricultural types. This limits the type and extent of agriculture allowed on the Cudgen Connection site.
The Cudgen Connection concept includes both physical and biological buffers to ensure that no land use conflicts arise which affect surrounding farming operations, nor result in land use conflicts with the surrounding Tweed Valley Hospital and housing areas.
The delivery of infrastructure (utilities, transport, open space, communications, storm water) required to service the land is physically and economically feasible. It will be developed at no cost to state and local governments.
Environment & heritage
The proposal reflects best practice environmental outcomes and avoids areas of high environmental value and Aboriginal or historical heritage significance.
Risks associated with physically constrained land are identified and avoided, including flood prone, bushfire prone and high erodible lands, severe slope and acid sulfate soils.
Further analysis can be found at the flow chart for site assessment of Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land (BSAL).
Industry research leaders Gilbert Sutherland and Macroplan have conducted an agricultural land assessment and exhaustive desktop and site-based studies.
Studies and site analysis considered and investigated include
- land use and infrastructure decisions made since the NRFPP
- site specific soil assessment
- assessment of pursuing intensive agricultural types without generating land use conflict
- analysis of the agricultural context of the Cudgen Plateau
- analysis of the Important Farmland Interim Variation Criteria
The findings are documented in Gilbert Sutherland’s Agricultural Land Assessment and Macroplan’s Analysis of the Cudgen Plateau. These assessments identify the Cudgen Connection site is now isolated from the remainder of State Significant Farmland on the Cudgen Plateau, is bordered by non-agricultural uses on three sides and has various soil classifications across the site.
Buffers are required to farm the land because it adjoins residential, hospital and environmental land. Just 1.73ha of the 5.7ha parcel is suitable for primary production.
Isolation from other farmland and the lack of land constraints mean the site achieves the Important Farmland Interim Variation Criteria.
In summary, the NRFPP was endorsed in 2005 and its mapping not holistically reviewed since. Then, agriculture was Tweed’s third largest employer and exporter and fourth highest contributor to gross regional production. Agriculture now represents 0.3% of the value of NSW’s agricultural output and ranks as Tweed’s 10th largest employment industry.
Comprising less than 1% of mapped Cudgen Plateau farmland, it is clear the parcel cannot be considered important to farming into the future. Agriculture is no longer the best use for the site.
Cudgen Plateau may comprise part of a broader visual amenity and landscaped setting, but the NRFPP specifies this is not a criterion used to identify significant farmland.
The Cudgen Connection team appreciate there is a heightened awareness of food security resulting from supply chain issues experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Again, this is not a criterion used by the NRFPP to determine State Significant Farmland.
Assessments identify the lack of high-quality soil, limitations to mitigate land use conflict and the minor percentage of Cudgen Plateau the site comprises. Notwithstanding, we see a great opportunity to deliver a ‘no net loss’ outcome to local agriculture by
- ensuring Cudgen Connection does not result in land use conflicts which burden additional farmland
- strengthening and promoting supply chain opportunities at paddock to plate eateries and a dedicated farmers’ market
- pursuing a tertiary education provider and campus presence on the Cudgen Connection site, which can support research and development of best practice farming and increase the capacity and capabilities of local farming