forest cut down in Tasmania, Australia

Broad-scale land clearing is just lazy

Farmers are not lazy. They are some of the hardest working people on the planet. So why imply that they are?

It is a brave man who calls Australian farmers lazy.

According to the Australian government, crop farmers in this unforgiving land work an average of 52 hours per week, 8 hours longer than workers elsewhere. They are also older at an average of 52 years of age. 

Farmers have a deserved reputation as hard-working people who keep going long after the rest of us have retired to a grey nomad existence.

Hopefully, the ivory towers offer some protection from such a bold statement as this one…

There are ways of growing beef that don’t destroy the environment. Broad-scale land clearing is just lazy … you don’t have to clear habitats and drive species to extinction in order to get your food 

Prof Brendan Wintle, conservation ecologist, University of Melbourne.

The farmers will not recognise the nuance, but strictly it’s the lazy agricultural system. 

Cleared land begins its agricultural life full of nutrients, organic matter and potential. After a time, agricultural practices erode this capability such that production becomes marginal or unsustainable.

Infographic showing. the decline in natural capital once land is cleared for agricutlure

This graph is stylised from many research examples that demonstrate a loss in soil carbon, nutrient exchange and productivity following the clearing of native vegetation for agriculture. Source: sustainably FED

When it gets marginal, there are essentially three options available to the farmer…

  1. keep going as best he can to the depletion limit and hope that is still enough to eke out a living
  2. add inputs, especially fertilisers and water, to build crop yields back to profitable levels 
  3. move along to newly cleared land 

Options 1 and 2 are preferred by conservationists because they should prevent the clearing of land for agriculture—the most significant cause of biodiversity loss and the source of a third of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

Options 1 and 2 cost the farmer.

The question becomes; who covers the cost?

What sustainably FED suggests

Laziness here is not avoiding getting up at dawn and falling back through the farmhouse kitchen door 14 hours later. It is the laziness of profit.

And anyone who has been in the world for more than five minutes knows that profit is a real lazy bastard.

Hero image from photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash


Mark is an ecology nerd who was cursed with an entrepreneurial gene and a big picture view making him a rare beast, uncomfortable in the ivory towers and the disconnected silos of the public service. Despite this he has made it through a 40+ year career as a scientist and for some unknown reason still likes to read scientific papers.

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