National Farmers' Federation

Australian Agricultural Sustainability Framework

The Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment (DAWE) provided $4M in funding to the National Farmers’ Federation to design an Australian Agricultural Sustainability Framework between 2020 and 2022 with the participation of farmers and other industry members.

This funding is part of the larger Agricultural Biodiversity Stewardship Package — a major investment from the Australian Government to improve the value of natural resource management, kick start private investment in farm biodiversity, and unlock ‘natural capital’ and other sustainability opportunities. 

A sustainability framework for Australian agriculture is needed to satisfy changing customer expectations locally and overseas, and to meet changing export expectations.

It is anticipated in the future that more sources of capital will be available for organisations and products that meet global environmental, social and governance standards (ESG). A sustainability framework is needed to meet trading partner obligations, and to make it easier for farmers to engage with new and emerging environmental markets.

Read the Time is Now report from KPMG here.

More information

With public and market expectations evolving, many small and medium-sized farm businesses would like to do more. Farmers want to understand what the market wants and how to meet changing requirements

Increasingly, the public are influencing benchmarks for best practice. A research program into community trust is exploring the benefits and challenges for farmers in transparently and consistently demonstrating shared values about topics the general public care about, such as safe food, quality nutrition, outstanding animal care and environmental stewardship.

Trading partners and sources of capital and finance are increasingly expecting companies and products to meet global environmental, social and governance principles (ESG).

A framework will help build industry capacity across the supply chain to demonstrate the ‘proof’ of sustainability they require. It will also make it easier for farmers to engage with new and emerging, premium, and environmental markets.

The Australian Agricultural Sustainability Framework (AASF) has been created to communicate the sustainability status and goals of the Australian agricultural sector to domestic and global communities and markets.

The framework is voluntary and creates no additional cost for farmers, supply chain organisations, and other stakeholders.

It operates at national not farm level. Farmers will not report against the AASF, but they will be able to use it to understand finance, supply chain and market expectations about sustainability and ESG reporting.

The framework themes, principles and criteria are high level. This allows for diversity across commodities, geography and production systems.

The aim is for AASF to assist in alignment and consistency across existing and emerging frameworks, schemes and programs and to address common issues like access to data.

The framework has been informed by, and aligned with, relevant global sustainability schemes and standards (for example SAFA, SAI, WBA, GRI). It is not designed for certification or compliance.

So far development of AASF has engaged with more than 1300 farmers, finance, retail and supply chain representatives and other stakeholders.

Read more about the AASF on the Australian Farm Institute website here.


What we've heard from farmers

With expectations of the general public and markets evolving, many small and medium-sized farmers would like to do more. Research has shown there is a need to support farmers to better convey and improve their environmental performance and land management practices.

There is confusion about what sustainability means and how it can be achieved. The intent is to assist farmers to continuously improve on-farm management practices and reporting, ensuring consistency and cohesion across multiple existing schemes, programs and other initiatives.

Farmers need support to show they have the ability to adapt to meet emerging opportunities and challenges. The framework aims to bolster Australian agricultural appeal and reputation by demonstrating the industry’s commitment to ongoing environmental stewardship and innovation.

Engagement Map

AASF development has been informed by consultation and the participation of more than 1300 stakeholders from across the agricultural supply chain, including businesses, primary producers, government, financiers, industry organisations — within Australia and overseas.

The success of the framework is dependent on continuing engagement and involvement of industry members and other stakeholders such as the general public in future phases.

The progress so far

In Phase 1, Australian and international sustainability frameworks and best management practices were audited and analysed to discover the areas of commonality and create recommendations on next steps.

The Australian Farm Institute developed the Phase 1 report through consultation with more than 500 farmers and other stakeholders.

The research established that best results were likely to come from an overarching sustainability framework that connected and verified current and emerging programs, providing farmers with choices.

In this phase, six separate streams of work were identified and delivered by different project partners. The elements include framework development, financial incentives and accounting systems, industry program benchmarking, aligning measurement framework projects, communication and engagement, legal and policy analysis.

What we have achieved during Phase 2:

  • AASF Version 3 is available on the AFI website
  • KPMG Report The time is Now released, it explores AASF in sustainable supply chains. AASF as translation layer for company ESG reporting identified as a key benefit.
  • CSIRO has assessed available national data sets for 15 AASF criteria to advise on data needs for reporting against all 43 AASF criteria and may assist industry frameworks to address data needs
  • 22 Industry and Environmental Frameworks and Schemes have been engaged and AASF’s alignment mapped. AASF will continue to work with this group
  • Survey of 600 farmers found high awareness and participation in sustainable practices, but there is inconsistency and confusion about how it is defined.
  • An initial assessment of legal, tax and policy barriers has been completed further analysis is being undertaken onproposed legislative changes and their effect on Australian taxation as a barrier to the uptake of sustainability payments

  • AFI will address the most appropriate long-term governance, funding and management structure for AASF and how it could be operationalised? This includes AASF enabling Australian engagement on international initiatives such as TNFD and building Australian markets in natural capital and ecosystem services
  • KPMG will co-design with commercial partners a framework for how pilots to test AASF in Australian supply chains and potentially overseas could be implemented. A potential partnership with NSW Government is under negotiation for pilot implementation
  • Schuster Consulting will host a Community of Practice for the industry and environmental frameworks and schemes to focus on data challenges. It is likely this group will expand.
  • A communications campaign to continue to raise awareness about AASF among primary producers, supply chain companies, finance, retailers and international markets interact will continue
  • Data continues as a focus to support framework reporting.

Webinar Recording:

The webinar below was recorded on 4 May 2020 as part of the Australian Farm Institute project investigating critical success factors for an Australian Farm Biodiversity Scheme. The presentations feature AFI Executive Director Richard Heath and NFF General Manager, Natural Resource Management Warwick Ragg. A final 1-hour webinar for this project will be held on Tuesday May 19th (register via link above).