Penny Kothe and Paul McKinnon with three pigs on one hectare of grass. The poultry was shifted around one hectare blocks
Penny Kothe, with her partner Paul McKinnon have for the past four years farmed on 100 acres (40 ha) east of Bungendore. Caroola Farm is in the broadacre (RU1) zone at Mulloon off the King’s Highway. Many readers may also know Penny from her pioneering work to help establish the brand and reality of the local Southern Harvest Farmers Market.
The couple now face sudden threats of regulation to their innovative family farming operation. But the same issue also sparks discussion about real opportunities for more diverse local food production and tourism.
Penny and Paul have faced two devastating bushfires with one in 2013 sweeping across their land. Unbowed, Penny says land regeneration has been a goal from the start. The farm is home to integrated animal and vegetable systems. “Our focus is on showcasing a sustainable, small scale approach to farming and humane raising of meat animals.”
They recently got a letter from QPRC stating that their (then) 100 meat poultry and six pigs constituted ‘intensive agriculture’ according to council definitions. Compliance officers also flagged on-farm public education and opening a farm shop without development consent as problems.
However, from the previous Palerang council they understood they could function as a ‘home business’ – used by many small producers who sell products from their blocks without needing consent. They were now told that since their farm-raised meat must be slaughtered at an abattoir (as required by health authorities) they can’t be called a ‘home business’ because the meat is not deemed ‘produced’ on farm.
This catch-22 was not caught by authorities in the past three years. “We are registered with the NSW Food Authority, we have regular Local Land Services pig inspections and had our understanding of the Local Environment Plans (LEPs) clarified by multiple conversations with council staff regarding our operations,” Penny said.
Local controls allow for ‘extensive agriculture’ without consent, as well as home businesses on farm. Extensive’ means grazing- based, which is what the Caroola animals are. But council’s definition of ‘intensive’ has now been applied to them.
A spokesperson for QPRC said: “There is little flexibility to what constitutes ‘intensive’ livestock agriculture”, pointing to the 2014 Palerang LEP. It defines ‘intensive’ as commercial livestock operations (including horses) “that are fed wholly or substantially on externally-sourced feed”.
A related compliance issue emerged from the Sydney Water Catchment Authority governing much of eastern Palerang. The 1979 legislation calls ‘intensive’ ANY poultry within a drinking water catchment and requires a Designated Development Approval (DDA) process. A DDA can cost up to $100,000 for waste water, endangered species and other studies and improvements.
Many operations could be caught by the catchment and intensive definitions – for example the increasing number of ‘pastured poultry’ (i.e. free-range on paddocks) operators meeting consumer and welfare demand. Even backyard or school egg producers could be affected once they sell their eggs
Penny and others note that a return to localism in food production relies on diverse, often small-scale, sustainable and ‘new ideas’ farming enterprises allied with tourism and education.
One local egg producer told the Bulletin the regulations may be the legacy of 40-year-old assumptions that modern pigs and chickens are always factory-farmed in cages or on concrete.
Long Paddock ‘pastured-poultry’ producer Eileen Moriarty from Bywong and Captains Flat wondered: “How does run-off from even 2000 poultry compare with cattle and sheep in a catchment? (And) everyone brings in feed in dry times, that’s the reality of farming.”
Eyeing future growth she said: “Everyone loves local products and there is a lot of customer loyalty.”
Bruce Gibbs from Tharwa Eggs agreed tourists love the “cellar door culture”. He is looking for an opportunity in nearby NSW and eyeing a partnership integrating cattle and his poultry called ‘layered farming’. Such innovation, he said: “is all about food security for the future. Localised, mixed systems are more resilient”.