OPINION

Gas backflip puts national food bowl at risk

The Victorian State Government has announced that it will lift its ban on conventional onshore gas exploration and drilling - and for farmers like me, that's bad news.

South Gippsland, where I farm beef cattle, is earmarked as a prime spot for gas exploration and drilling. It's also some of the country's most fertile agricultural land.

That's why my community fought long and hard to have the ban on onshore gas introduced, and why I'm so disappointed to see our state government moving backwards on this crucial issue.

Victorian farmers bring in billions of dollars in exports each year, and agriculture employs more than 200,000 people across the state. More than that, we're the nation's food bowl.

At a time when food security and water top national concerns, it seems crazy that the Victorian Government would risk disrupting one of our prime agricultural regions to pursue more gas.

But that's exactly what they have done. And it's not just Victorian farmers who are affected by the current gas craze.

Several major gas projects, including the controversial fracking project at Narrabri, were pushed forward recently as part of a new "energy deal" between the federal and NSW governments. Many farmers in the Narrabri area are deeply concerned about the risk to their livelihoods.

Gas is a highly polluting fossil fuel. At a time when we simply can't afford more pollution.

For those of us who work on the land and have just experienced one of the worst droughts in living memory, climate change is a clear and present threat to our farms, our communities and our livelihoods.

It's simple physics - the more gas we produce and burn, the higher our emissions will be. That's why, in agriculture we're taking tangible steps to reduce our methane emissions and achieve carbon neutrality.

But agriculture can't go it alone. I just don't know how long our agricultural sector will be able to withstand climate change unless urgent action is taken to bring emissions down across the economy

After the horror summer we've just experienced of bushfires, heatwaves, drought and then flooding, regional and farming communities are doing it tough.

We see the impact of climate change on our land and stock every day. From where I stand, I need our governments, both state and federal, to stand up to protect our agricultural sector - and introducing more gas will only hurt farmers.

Fergus O'Connor is beef cattle farmer from South Gippsland