RM Journal

Rethinking the regulation of farming: the need for a principles-based approach


Author: B J Matheson LLB(Hons), BA(Hons) Barrister, Richmond Chambers

“Farming within limits” is the current catch-cry for those seeking the regulation of farming. It is a deceptively simple incomplete sentence that embodies a myriad of questions.

What is a “farming system” and when does the “farming” process begin and end? What are the resources that are to be subject to “limits” and what are the limits themselves? Does “within” mean at all times or most of the time? If the limits require an improvement from the status quo, by when do those limits need to be achieved?

Overlaying those questions are the cumulative and synergistic effects and trade-offs that occur between different resources whenever a complex system is being assessed.

In this case, a farming system is being operated within, and must respond to, a cacophony of other natural and anthropogenic systems (e.g. climate and climate change, ecological, hydrological, social, cultural, and political) and markets (e.g. financial and commodity); and, just for good measure, international pandemics and trade wars.

Further complicating those interactions is the question of ownership of certain resources essential to farming. My initial intention for this paper was to focus on how farming might successfully operate within limits, as those limits were beginning to emerge from national policy statements, and broader policy papers.

However, it soon dawned on me that before we could understand how limits might be framed, we needed first to rethink the approach to environmental regulation; this need is particularly urgent for regional plans that manage complex and uncertain interactions of natural resources.

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