Climate change puts heat on ag

17 Oct, 2015 01:00 AM
A projected doubling in the frequency of the 'spring drought' could reduce national income $7.4b

AUSTRALIA'S climate is already tough on farmers, but it will get considerably more challenging over the span of an average lifetime.

In 70 years, if humanity continues to pollute the atmosphere at the same rate, current climate zones may have shifted 900 kilometres south.

Even more difficult for agriculture, the new Feeding a Hungry Nation report observes, will be the rising number of very hot days as the climate changes.

“Dubbo, for example, which in today’s climate experiences 22 days per year above 35°C, could see a trebling of hot days to 65 per year by 2090 under a high emissions scenario,” the report’s Climate Council authors observe.

The Climate Council, initially appointed to provide independent advice to government and publicly funded to do so, had its funding withdrawn by the Abbott government but has continued to operate on private donations.

The Feeding the Hungry Nation report looks at the intersection of climate change and agriculture. Shifting climatic patterns are highly likely to affect Australian households “as food prices and food availability become more volatile”, and on the economies and social fabric of rural communities that depend on agricultural prosperity.

Climate has always been a natural constraint on farm productivity growth in Australia.

The 2015 wheat crop is now forecast to be about 24 million tonnes, well shy of the 27.4 mt record crop of 2010-11, after yield losses because of a dry spring and a record-breaking early October heatwave.

The Australian cattle herd is at a 20-year low after two years of high turnoff because of drought.

Annual mean temperature (in °C) for the present climate.

These knockbacks have occurred within the envelope of Australia’s natural climate variability. Climate change is introducing greater variability to a country where rainfall is already three times more variable than in the United States, and double the variability of New Zealand.

These changes will occur as global population soars, potentially inhibiting Australia’s ability to contribute to heightened demand for food, and to profit from it. Some analyses suggest that Australia’s ability to contribute to global food production will be even reduced.

Annual mean temperature (in °C) projected for the late 21st century if emissions remain high.

For instance, the report observed, a projected doubling in the frequency of the “spring drought” that has plagued south-eastern Australia in the 21st Century could reduce national income $7.4 billion annually, equivalent to lowering GDP by one per cent per annum.

Small rises in average temperature can have subtle but costly effects - on yield of grain crops, sugar content of horticultural crops, the performance of dairy and beef cattle. The natural ranges of pests and diseases are changing, and will continue to change.

The report digs into some detail on all of these issues.

Australian agriculture can continue to adapt incrementally to these changes, as it has been doing. Over the past 15 years, in response to reduced rainfall and waterlogging, Victorian farmers have greatly expanded their cropping operations.

But incremental adaptation won’t be enough, the report’s author argue. “The present day match between suitable climate, and the requirements of some agricultural enterprises, will become progressively decoupled.”

Instead, “transformational adaptation” might be necessary - like the wine industry’s progressive migration to Tasmania as warming reduces grape quality in traditional wine-growing regions like South Australia.

But those changes are expensive and risky, and the financial hardship being experienced by many farmers limits their capacity to invest in adaptation.

And, the report’s authors wrote, “if the present rate of climate change is maintained, there will be many challenges to which adaptation is simply not possible”.

The only assuredly safe option, in the view of the Climate Council, is for a global switch to a “low carbon” world economy within the next decade, thus curtailing the emissions that are driving climate change.

“Achieving carbon neutrality in the land-based sector, including agriculture, will play a vital role in the transition we must embrace.”

Matthew Cawood

Matthew Cawood

is the national science and environment writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


17/10/2015 4:02:06 PM

How on earth can carbon neutrality be achieved when an extra 1 billion people swell the earth's population every 10 years?
Ted O'Brien.
19/10/2015 7:06:36 PM

It wasn't climate change that shut down the disused rail lines and silos that we see around the country. It was dopey academics and politicians. And it is dopey academics and the politicians they trained that can't see that Australia has the capacity to increase its agricultural output considerably if a fair price is paid for the produce. For 27 years they have been talking of "could be" catastrophe impending, and it hasn't started to happen yet except in fiddled data. There has been no significant change in the rate of rise of the sea level despite huge increases in CO2 emissions.
20/10/2015 6:54:44 AM

TO'B, there is no "fiddled data". Your assertion is inaccurate at best, a lie at worst. For a clear assessment of recent climate change, including sea level rise, see the recent NOAA State of the Climate Report of July 2015: ies2015/071615-international-repo rt-confirms-2014-was-earths-warme st-year-on-record.html
20/10/2015 8:03:59 AM

Lol, still pushing the same old misinformation Nico ? Keep up the good work Ted.
20/10/2015 9:12:38 AM

Gumtree, despite your lack of manners, I invite you to tell us in what respect the NOAA State of the Climate Report 2015 is in any way inaccurate. (You will have to read it, and the attached scientific references, to have a valid opinion. Assertions are not enough.)
20/10/2015 9:58:19 AM

So Nico you are now resorting to calling TO'B a liar and rubbishing anyone who disagrees with your AGW garbage in your ridiculous effort to push your cause. I'm not sure what most people would call you when you continue to bang on about the environmental issues with AGW and refuse to accept the statements of your own AGW leaders regarding the scam where they acknowledge that the whole AGW aim has been about economic redistribution and the environmental issues have just been an illusion to achieve their end game. Delusional, foolish or snout in the trough would come to mind for many.
21/10/2015 8:43:13 AM

Max. Delusional and foolish? Take a look in the mirror mate. "Exxon documents obtained by ICN show that top corporate managers were informed by their own scientists about carbon dioxide's potentially severe effect on the climate as far back as the late 1970s. Yet after a decade of internal discussions and research on global warming, Exxon spent more than 20 years discrediting climate change science." /16102015/two-us-representatives- seek-justice-department-inquiry-e xxon
21/10/2015 9:41:50 AM

Thank you, Harquebus. I no longer bother to reply to Max, who is fixated on his silly conspiracy theory, impervious to evidence, and wilfully ignorant about how science actually operates.


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