Call for sustainable balance between farming and mining

08 September 2023

Call for sustainable balance between farming and mining

In a country where agricultural land is precious, resources finite, the farming workforce greying, and the cost of farming inputs continuing to escalate another challenge is looming large. For the time being our farms continue to meet the demands of domestic and international markets however the encroachment of urban development and strategic infrastructure on arable land will eventually limit our capacity to grow enough food for domestic consumption and export.

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With the sudden and dramatic increase in global demand for “critical minerals” or Rare Earth Elements (REE), used in the manufacture of electronics and electric vehicles, there is an equal escalation in mineral exploration. There are established laws and regulations which clearly set out the rights and obligations of landowners and prospectors with regard to both the exploration phase and the mining phase. While the reputable mining companies generally endeavour to avoid confrontation, landholders should be aware that access cannot be denied if a licence has been granted.

Typically Exploration licences usually cover a very large area, ‘casting the net wide’, but the areas of particular interest are usually very small by comparison. Exploration is usually of limited impact to the land. Generally what they are looking for in this case is usually found on ridge lines, or on the edge of rougher forested country, not arable flats. In Tasmania’s geology REEs can also be found beneath bauxite deposits.

If REEs are found in a commercially viable quantity a separate Mining Licence is required. The process of obtaining a Mining Licence also involves the EPA and Local Government. If a source was located there should be extensive negotiation with the affected landowners. Compensation guidelines are set out in detail in the Mineral Resources Development Act 1995 and are comprehensive. Royalties to the landowner for REEs are not mandatory but agreements can be negotiated.

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Primary Separation would most likely be done on site and then the ore shipped for processing. The plant required for the primary phase does not have a large footprint and is environmentally benign. Mining companies are aware of the need for Social Licence and would be expected to act accordingly. If a mining company were to act outside the law their licence may be denied or rescinded.

TFGA’s major concern is any potential detrimental impact on prime agricultural land of which Tasmania has some of the nation’s most productive. It is imperative for the government to properly assess the impacts of mining exploration and the extraction of mineral resources when it may lead to the reduction of productive farmland in this state. Failure to do so risks placing an even greater burden on the agricultural sector.

In the face of increasing mining activities, some farmers are engaging in a cooperative dialogue with mining companies, seeking shared benefits and sustainable practices. Regardless of one's perspective, the overarching concern remains the long-term impact of giving up fertile agricultural land for mining and any threat to our long-term food security. The government needs to be open and transparent in support of farming communities and ensure the necessary policies are in place to support them.