New opportunities to open the farm gate 

Opinion editorial by Pete Arkle, CEO of NSW Farmers 

The NSW Government is proposing planning changes to make it easier for farmers to add an agritourism element to their business, such as a wedding venue or farm stays. NSW Farmers generally supports the proposed changes, which would reduce red tape and streamline approval processes for those looking to diversify their enterprise and create ancillary income streams. However, it is critical these developments do not impinge on primary production or create a precedent whereby high-value agricultural land is used solely for agritourism purposes.

Agritourism is a burgeoning field, which in Australia is expected to reach $18.6 billion in value by 2030. The potential for agritourism to contribute to regional economies was cemented in 2020, when regional NSW was put “on the map” as a travel destination and local food production became paramount as global supply chains contracted in response to COVID-19.

In a rapidly evolving world characterised by interconnectedness, environmental change and heightened consumer awareness, farmers are increasingly looking at ways to complement their core business and primary income. Business diversification, whether through agritourism or value-adding, is a way farmers can adapt to shifting consumer sentiment, spread risk and remodel their enterprise against the impacts of climate variability and export market volatility. 

A smart planning system is key to ensuring diversification opportunities such as agritourism can function in harmony with primary production. A potential downside of the proposed changes is that they could foster the expansion of agritourism at the expense of primary production. By reducing red tape around this type of activity, there will be more interest in pursuing it as a full business, not an ancillary activity. Such changes risk reducing and fragmenting the pool of land used for agriculture in NSW. 

The regional planning framework must recognise the vital contribution of agriculture to the NSW community and economy. The sector is worth over $12 billion a year, it employs over 75,000 people, and it supports the nearly 30,000 food and beverage manufacturing jobs in regional NSW. 

Protecting productive agricultural land for agricultural purposes is part of the NSW Farmers’ land use policy strategy. These changes are a step forward in a whole of government plan to recognise and protect valuable farming land, while taking away barriers designed for urban centres.

To read the NSW Government’s proposed changes, read their Explanation of Intended Effect