Reports by PETER HENDERSON
THE ABARE regional conference at Toodyay last week provided food for thought when a guest speaker said salinity and climate change could virtually wipe out eastern wheatbelt farm profit in the next 30 years.
While the prediction was dire, it was based on drier and relatively short-term weather records with no new farming technologies or adoption of saline land management systems.
Agriculture Department senior economics advisor Ross Kingwell said under such a scenario the profit from a typical 4000ha eastern wheatbelt mixed farm could fall from $110,000 to $10,000.
He said increased salinity could wipe $60,000 off farmers' profit in the next 30 years while climate change would account for another $40,000.
Mr Kingwell said under projected climate change the amount of crop would be reduced from 52pc to 42pc and sheep flocks would also be reduced because of less pasture and high costs of supplementary feeding.
"Unless there are a lot more technological improvements then their profitability is going to be squeezed purely by climate change," Mr Kingwell said.
Climate change also had a low impact in reducing salinity.
Mr Kingwell said only a proportion of farmers used saline management systems such as oil mallees because few of them were profitable.
He said the proportion of drier and warmer temperatures had doubled from 1970-2000 and if this scenario persisted for the next 30 years farmers could be hit by a double whammy of climate change and salinity problems.
But he was optimistic about the farming and scientific communities' ability to manage climate change and said the western wheatbelt had already benefited from a drier climate.
National Party leader Brendon Grylls was critical of the report because it painted a pessimistic image of agriculture.
Mr Kingwell said while it was pessimistic it also was unwise to ignore the issues as highlighted in a co-authored report, titled Climate Change and the Economics of Farm Management in the Face of Land Degradation.
Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) Western region panel chairman Dale Baker said Mr Kingwell was taking into account that there would be no new innovation in agriculture.
However, Mr Baker said that even with 25pc less rainfall in the past 30 years WA farmers had consistently outperformed the rest of Australia in innovation and technological advances.
"He has given us the baseline scenario," Mr Baker said.