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John Ralph Essay Competition 2016

The Australian Farm Institute established the annual John Ralph Essay Competition in 2010 to honour John Ralph, who was the inaugural Chairman of the Australian Farm Institute. The Essay Competition was created to acknowledge John’s ongoing support for sound research and debate in agricultural economics and policies.

Entrants in the 2016 John Ralph Essay Competition are asked to argue the case for or against the proposal that is the topic of the 2016 competition. In arguing a case, competition entrants will need to clearly explain, whether they support or oppose the above statement.

Proposal Topic

Statement | Farm environmental stewardship programs are just subsidies in disguise and should not be adopted in Australia.

Australia and New Zealand are the only developed nations in the world that do not have farm environmental stewardship schemes, which are schemes under which governments pay farmers for providing environmental services that benefit the entire community. In the United States, for example, the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) pays a yearly rental payment in exchange for farmers removing environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and planting species that will improve environmental quality. Under the CRP, there are currently almost 24 million acres enrolled for periods of up to 15 years, for which farmers are paid annual rentals which exceed US$1.7 billion per year.

There have been regular calls by farm groups to implement similar schemes in Australia, and several have been trialled (for example the Victorian Government’s Bush Tender program). However, many economists and some farmers simply see these programs as ‘subsidies in disguise’ that effectively pay farmers for managing their land and water resources in a prudent manner. Such schemes also have the effect of increasing land values, which limits opportunities for farm expansion or for new entrants to get established.

On the other hand, some farmers argue that the alternative to stewardship programs are government regulatory controls such as the various state Native Vegetation laws which place all the costs of public good conservation on farmers, and that the farm sector would be much better off with stewardship programs.

There are two categories for this competition:

  • The Open category is open to anyone, including students, farmers, agribusiness participants, policy-makers, consultants, researchers, etc. – Winner will receive a cash prize of $5000
  • The Novice category is open to persons 25 years of age or under, on Saturday 31st of December 2016. – Winner will receive a cash prize of $1000
  • Entries are due on Monday 5 September 2016


If you oppose this idea, you must explain why. What would be the benefits of an Australian environmental stewardship program for farm businesses and the wider community? What is a preferred model that should be adopted in Australia? What would be the likely impact of these models on productivity growth and environmental outcomes? Your response should also consider the payment mechanisms, compatibility issues with other environmental programs, likely impacts on farm management decisions, implications for land and water use planning, as well as any regulatory requirements.


If you support the statement, explain why you don’t see a future for environmental stewardship programs in Australia. Your response will need to clearly state the policy challenges that would be difficult to overcome. Your response should also discuss lessons arising from model/s in place overseas and why they may not be successful in Australia. Explain why you think such policies are undesirable and why it could be problematic to achieve both sustainable environmental outcomes and maintain farm productivity growth. In the absence of stewardship programs, you will also need to discuss the preferred model/s that will better achieve conservation and productivity outcomes for farmers.

More information | www.farminstitute.org.au

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