IS MY LAND STRATEGIC AGRICULTURAL LAND?

 

The NSW Government’s Strategic Regional Land Use Policy includes measures to identify and map the State’s most valuable agricultural land and to require an additional step in the planning process for certain types of mining and petroleum activities which are proposed on or near that land. The Government has mapped Strategic Agricultural Land in the State at a regional level, has verified Critical Industry Cluster land at a local level, and developed a process to verify Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land at a property level. This section outlines the process for verifying Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land at a property level.

 

Applying for a Site Verification Certificate for Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land
 

When can I apply for a site verification certificate?

As a landholder you are only able to apply for a Site Verification Certificate to verify your land is Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land if:

 

  • you have been served with a notice by a mineral or petroleum explorer of its intention to negotiate a land access arrangement with you, or

  • you have entered into a land access arrangement with a mineral or petroleum explorer; and

  • no Development Application or modification application for mining or petroleum production has been lodged in relation to your land.[i]

 

When can a mineral or petroleum explorer apply for a site verification certificate?

In some circumstances an explorer may apply for a site verification certificate to verify if land is Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land, and in other cases the company must apply for a site verification certificate.

 

An explorer may apply for a site verification certificate if their proposed activity is located on land mapped as Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land and they wish to challenge that status.

 

An explorer must apply for a site verification certificate if their proposed activity is located on land that is not mapped as Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land.

 

What will it cost to apply for a site verification certificate?

The lodgement fee for a Site Verification Certificate for Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land is $3,900.[ii]

 

When you apply for a Site Verification Certificate you will need to submit a report assessing your land against the criteria for Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land for which you will need to engage consultants. The cost of these consultants will be in addition to the lodgement fee.

 

How do I apply for a site verification certificate?

You can apply for a site verification certificate by completing an online form and by uploading supporting documents or sending them to the NSW Government Department of Planning and Environment.

 

To access the form for applying for a Site Verification Certificate visit:

Application for Site Verification Certificate

 

Once you lodge your application, you will be sent an invoice for the application fee. A Site Verification Certificate will not be issued unless the fee is paid in full.

Your application will also not be accepted until the supporting documents are received.

 

The supporting documents must be sent to:

 

Attention: Strategic Regional Policy
Department of Planning & Environment
GPO Box 39

SYDNEY NSW 2001
 

To access Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land site verification data cards and templates for profile, layer and laboratory data email:

soils@environment.nsw.gov.au

 

Once your application is accepted along with supporting documents including data cards, the Secretary of the Department of Planning and Environment will issue a site verification certificate within 21 days.

 

Criteria for site verification of Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land 
 

This section outlines the criteria for identifying Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land during the site verification process. However, this fact sheet seeks to simply the process to make it more easily understandable. If you intend to seek verification that your land is Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land you should read the full and detailed explanation in the Interim Protocol for Site Verification and Mapping of Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land which you will find online by clicking on the link below.

 

For more information and a full and detailed scientific explanation of the steps for verifying Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land, please refer to:

Interim Protocol for Site Verification and mapping of Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land

 

The assessment of land to verify whether it is Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land is a very technical task and you will need to engage authorised persons with appropriate qualifications to perform the assessment.

 

Initial steps in the process of verifying if land is Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land
 

Determine area to be assessed

The minimum area of land which must meet the criteria for Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land if the land is to be verified as such is 20 hectares. If the area is smaller than 20 hectares then it cannot be Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land.

 

Confirm the land has access to a reliable water supply

Secondly, you will need to confirm that the land has access to a reliable water supply.

 

All of the area in the Upper Hunter and the New England North West has access to a ‘reliable water supply’ because there is either rainfall of 350 mm or more per annum in 9 out of 10 years or the land is underlain by a groundwater aquifer with a bore yield rate greater than 5 L/s and total dissolved solids of less than 1,500 mg/L.

 

If your land is outside the Upper Hunter or New England North West you will need to work through the ‘Flow chart to verify water availability’ produced by the NSW Government.

 

To view the flowchart to verify water availability see:

Flowchart to verify water availability

 

If your land does not have access to a reliable water supply as defined in the flowchart then it cannot be Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land.

 

You will see from the flow chart that land considered to have a reliable water supply is land which:

  • receives rainfall of 350mm or more per year for 9 out of 10 years, or

  • has access to a regulated river, or

  • has access to an unregulated river which flows at least 95% of the time, or

  • has access to a highly productive groundwater source as declared by the NSW Office of Water. These are characterised by bores having yield rates greater than 5L/s and total dissolved solids of less than 1,500mg/L and exclude miscellaneous alluvial aquifers, also known as small storage aquifers. 

 

If your land is assessed as meeting the area to be assessed and access to reliable water supply criteria then the next step is to assess the land according to the soils and landscape verification criteria.

 

Soils and landscape verification criteria

There are 10 soils and landscape verification criteria to be assessed to determine whether your land is Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land.

 

A flowchart of the process for verifying soil and landscape criteria has been developed. It is designed to allow for easy to measure criteria to be assessed first.

 

To view the flowchart for soil and landscape assessment criteria for Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land see:

Flowchart for soil and landscape assessment criteria for Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land

 

The ten soils and landscape site verification criteria are:

 

  • slope;

  • rock outcrop;

  • surface rock fragments;

  • gilgai;

  • soil fertility (soil type);

  • effective rooting depth to a physical barrier;

  • soil drainage;

  • soil pH;

  • salinity; and

  • effective rooting depth to a chemical barrier.

 

For your land to be considered Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land it must meet all of the criteria in the flow chart. If any criteria are not met, your land is not Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land and there is no need to continue the assessment.

 

Slope

Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land must have a slope of less than or equal to 10 per cent.

 

Slope can be an impediment to farming as erosion potential rapidly increases once slope increases beyond 10 per cent. Increased slope is also an impediment to the safe operation of machinery.

Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land must have a slope less than or equal to 10 per cent.

 

Rock outcrop

Rocks hinder cultivation operations (e.g. damage to machinery). Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land must have less than 30 per cent rock outcrop.

 

Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land must have less than 30 per cent rock outcrop.

 

Surface rockiness

Rockiness refers to the presence of unattached coarse rock fragments on the soil surface and to rock outcrops at the soils surface. It does not apply to coarse fragments found within the soil profile. Buried coarse fragments are assessed during soil profile description and form part of the criteria for determining effective rooting depth.

 

Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land must have surface rockiness where no more than 20 per cent of area has unattached rock fragments greater than 60 mm diameter.

 

Rocks hinder cultivation operations for example through damage to machinery. Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land is limited to those soils that do not have many rock fragments and where the size of these fragments range from ‘small to large pebbles’. The area may also be slightly rocky.

 

Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land must have surface rockiness where no more than 20 per cent of area has unattached rock fragments greater than 60mm diameter.

 

Gilgai

Gilgai are natural soil formations characterised by a markedly undulating surface sometimes with mounds and depressions, probably caused by swelling and cracking of clays during alternating wet and dry seasons.

 

Although gilgai microrelief can be improved, gilgai will typically reform if deeper than 500mm.

 

If the average depth of gilgai depressions is deeper than 500mm, and if the depressions occupy more than 50 per cent of a mapped area, then the area is not Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land.

 

Uneven surfaces interfere with cultivation, drainage and irrigation and may have elevated salinity and sodicity levels. Gilgai is a feature that is simple to identify.

 

If the average depth of gilgai depressions is deeper than 500 mm, and if the depressions occupy more than 50 per cent of a mapped area of gilgai, then the area is not Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land.

 

Soil type

Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land must have a particular soil type which has naturally high, moderately high or moderate fertility.

 

For each soil type, a combination of factors such as inherent fertility, soil permeability, soil structure, tilth and typical soil depth determine soil fertility. The ranking is based on soil classification.

 

Soils with moderately high or high fertility are capable of sustaining high levels of productivity.

 

Soils with moderate fertility are capable of moderate levels of productivity. The soil type can be initially determined simply in the field using a hand auger. Some laboratory analysis may be required for a comprehensive assessment of the classification.

 

Effective rooting depth to physical barrier

Effective rooting depth refers to the depth of soil over which plant roots can function effectively.

 

Physical barriers include bedrock, weathered rock, hard pans and continuous gravel layers.

 

Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land soils must have an effective rooting depth to a physical barrier greater than or equal to 750 mm.

 

Drainage

Water logging caused by poor drainage is generally associated with low-lying landscape positions, drainage restrictions or impediments which can severely reduce crop productivity.

 

Areas that have poor drainage severely reduce crop and pasture productivity and root growth is inhibited due to poor aeration. Drainage is normally tested in the field.

 

Poorly drained or very poorly drained soils are not Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land.

 

Soil pH

Soil pH refers to the acidity or alkalinity of the soil.

 

Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land soils range from acidic to alkaline soil conditions within the range of 5.0 - 8.9 when measured in water, or 4.5 – 8.1 when measured in calcium chloride, within the uppermost 600 mm of the soil profile.

 

pH influences the availability and behaviour of many soil elements which in turn affects the productivity of a range of plants. pH will need to be measured in the laboratory as this is more accurate.

 

Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land soils range from acidic to alkaline soil conditions within the range of 5.0 - 8.9 when measured in water.

 

Soil Salinity

Soil salinity refers to the concentration of soluble salts present in a soil.

 

Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land has a level of soil salinity where electrical conductivity in a saturated extract (ECe) is less than or equal to 4dSm/m or if gypsum is present, chlorides are less than 800mg/kg. This applies to the uppermost 600 mm of the soil profile.

 

Salinity affects the ability of plants to extract nutrients and water and affects root development.

 

Soil salinity will need to be measured in the laboratory as this is more accurate.

 

Effective rooting depth to a chemical barrier

Effective rooting depth refers to the depth of soil over which plant roots can function effectively.

 

Chemical barriers include pH, electrical conductivity, chloride content, exchangeable sodium percentage and the calcium to magnesium ratio.

 

Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land soils must have an effective rooting depth to a chemical barrier greater or equal to 750 mm.

 

Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land soils must have an effective rooting depth to a chemical barrier greater or equal to 750 mm.

 

What supporting information do I need to supply for a Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land site verification certificate application?
 

The assessment of Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land is a very technical task and should only be overseen by persons with appropriate qualifications, such as professional soil scientists.

 

Others may assist with associated tasks such as sampling, geographical information system (GIS) mapping, and laboratory testing, however a suitably qualified person must certify the quality and accuracy of the work.

 

The qualified person conducting the assessment of Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land is responsible for the report submitted to the Department of Planning and Environment and for ensuring all soil data collected is lodged in the appropriate format with the NSW Soil and Land Information System (SALIS). This will assist with auditing and refinement of regional Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land mapping.

 

You will need to ensure that an assessment for site verification of Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land and the associated soil and landscape criteria:

... is overseen by a qualified soil scientist who has signed off on the quality and extent of the work;

  • in relation to soil samples, testing is performed by laboratories compliant with the Australian Standard for general requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories

  • results within 15 per cent of threshold levels are analysed in a laboratory;

  • all soil profile descriptions and observations are recorded and submitted to the Soil and Land Information System; and

  • laboratory data is supplied to Office of Environment and Heritage using their standard spreadsheet templates.

 

A report supporting your Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land site verification application must include:

 

  • reports which meet the requirements detailed in the Interim Protocol for Site Verification and Mapping of Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land

  • three 1:25000 maps showing: base level information; soil types and Biophysical Strategic Agricultural Land;

  • Geographical Information System output files, and metadata statements; and

  • laboratory reports. 

 

[i]    NSW Government An Explanation of the Mining SEPP and EP&A Regulation Draft Amendments (November 2012).

[ii]   Environmental Planning and Assessment Regulation 2000 (NSW) reg 262C.

 

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