Today’s highlights are
- As the weather gets weirder, even sceptical farmers are adapting
- Permafrost versus burping cows – which produces the most methane
- Loose joints; safe water; the limits of executive power: Robert Menzies’ legacy lives on with scholarships to young leaders in physiotherapy, engineering, and the law in Sydney and Melbourne.
And I think that’s all the science news we have for this week. Next week we’ll be talking supernovae, quantum computers and nanotech in the run up to the national physics congress in Sydney…
As the weather gets weirder, even sceptical farmers are adapting
Many climate adaptation measures just make good business sense. “The trick is to avoid mentioning climate change” says NSW farmer and climate champion Peter Holding, who is in Melbourne speaking at a conference on agriculture and climate change. Peter tops today’s headlines:
- Hot, dry and full of data: the farmer using science to get good profits in bad weather
- Climate actions trump beliefs: Victoria’s farmers are sceptical but would rather adapt than debate
- Dairy farming in a changing climate: rainforests, laneways and water recycling. And double the cows.
- Who’s ready? CSIRO scores Australia’s farmers on preparations for a new climate
- Dairy farming in a changing climate: rainforests, laneways and water recycling. And double the cows.
- Climate change moves at triple speed in our south-eastern fisheries: will our lobsters keep up?
Yesterday’ s UN report on the methane emissions from thawing permafrost has sparked global concern, but methane emissions from agriculture dwarf the output of the permafrost. For each tonne of methane coming from the Arctic each year, we can expect at least two from agriculture. The world’s ruminant livestock are the prime source, singlehandedly burping out at least as much methane as the permafrost is expected to produce. We can’t stop the permafrost melting but we can reduce livestock emissions – more on this online at http://www.scienceinpublic.com.au/bulletins/media-bulletin/climateagoverview
Hot, dry and full of data: the farmer using science to get good profits in bad weather
Just ten years ago, waterlogging was the issue on Peter Holding’s farm in Harden, NSW. Then the rainfall dropped away, and Holding found himself fighting through eight years of drought.
Peter chose the right weapon to bring to this fight: science. He’s used each year as a learning experience, monitoring the fine details of the chemicals and moisture in the soil that matter in difficult times. He’s using modelling programs to predict just how much yield he can expect from next year’s weather, and he’s using CSIRO research to ensure that what rain does fall on his soil stays in the soil, rather than evaporating or going to weeds. Peter’s a case study in to how to fine-tune a farm, using the best science available.
The result of all this science? This year’s growing season rainfall is predicted to drop to drought levels again, and yet Peter’s projected a profitable crop rather than the failed harvests of years gone by. Peter will be in Melbourne this week, sharing this story as well as his perspectives on the future of agricultural research at a climate change and agriculture conference.
Climate actions trump beliefs: Victoria’s farmers are sceptical but would rather adapt than debate
Many of Victoria’s farmers aren’t convinced by the evidence on climate change, but that isn’t stopping them from getting ready for a hotter, dryer climate. In fact, a 2011 survey found that one in five of Victoria’s farmers are less concerned about climate change than they were two years ago: only 36% considered it a serious problem, down from 56% in 2009.
However, it seems that opinion and action are moving in different directions.
Research conducted by Chris Sounness from the Victorian Department of Primary Industries (DPI) is showing that actions really speak louder than words: in spite of a decline in concern about climate change, farmers are making investments on their farms that will keep them profitable as the Victorian climate becomes hotter and drier. For example, over two-thirds of grain farmers have adopted no-till farming to keep more moisture in their soil, and 40% of farmers are shifting their practices to better match the changing seasons, by lambing and calving earlier, or sowing seeds to better suit new seasonal patterns.
These actions save money – and Sounness believes that talking economics and science together might be what gets adaptation spreading quickly on our farms, rather than focusing on the politicised climate debate.
Dairy farming in a changing climate: rainforests, laneways and water recycling. And double the cows.
Lynne Strong runs double the average number of dairy cows on her Clover Hill property, but she’s not stripping the land bare. Instead, it has large areas of shade trees, of which 50% is high conservation value rainforest, and even concrete ‘cow super highways’.
Clover Hill, at Jamberoo on the NSW South Coast, may be uniquely shared with rural-residential properties, but the trees and tracks aren’t there for good looks alone. Cow wellbeing is at the top of Clover Hill’s priority list and a hot cow or a lame cow is not a happy cow. Lynne’s focus on the landscape, as much as the cattle, makes her farm highly efficient and productive – and ready for the increasingly warm, wet weather that’s predicted for her region.
Speaking in the lead up to a climate change and agriculture conference in Melbourne this week, Lynne said “We are getting more extreme heatwaves and bigger rainfall events. For example, it’s not unusual for us to get 10 inches of rain in one day. Three or four years ago, we had three 42 degree days over Christmas. Cows really struggle during extended hot and humid days and their milk production drops dramatically. Over the years, we’ve increased the number of trees and shelterbelts to protect and shade the cows during these extreme weather events.”
Who’s ready? CSIRO scores Australia’s farmers on preparations for a new climate
Adaptation boils down to ‘changing what we do to get what we want’ – but are our farmers able to do it fast enough? And will they cope with the impacts of our own legislation to curtail climate change on farms?
These are the questions that occupy Dr Andrew Ash and Dr Mark Howden at CSIRO. Speaking at a climate change and agriculture conference in Melbourne this week, these researchers will present their respective takes on ‘the big picture’, alongside the personal stories of some of Australia’s most climate-ready farmers.
Climate change moves at triple speed in our south-eastern fisheries: will our lobsters keep up?
Not every climate change adaptation challenge is on our farms. Australia’s south eastern waters are a climate change ‘hotspot’, with marine waters warming at more than three times the global average. This threatens our rock lobster and abalone populations but might also bring us new fishing opportunities as northern species shift towards the poles. Researchers at CSIRO are saying that it’s time to change how we fish, and what we catch.
CSIRO nabs two prizes for climate research
Mark Howden, a CSIRO climate adaptation expert, is the only Australian advising the US government climate change advisory committee. He’s also leading the food security chapter of a forthcoming UN report on climate change, where his recommendations will help shape policy and guide us towards a future with enough food.
Jeff’s Baldock, also from the CSIRO, has been looking into soil carbon, and how Australian farmers can use their land differently to help reduce the impact of climate change. There’s a possibility that our soils could take a lot of carbon out of the air over the next few decades. Jeff’s work will help us determine just how much.
For their research into food security and soil carbon sequestration, Mark and Jeff received the CCRSPI prize for excellence in climate research in primary industries which was presented last night at a dinner in Melbourne.
Speaking at the awards ceremony, CCRSPI executive director Snow Barlow said “Jeff Baldock’s work on soil carbon offers important insights into how Australia can respond to climate change, and will no doubt be noticed by national policymakers. Mark’s work in adaptation has shaped the responses of Australian industries, and his work with the US, as well as his leadership of the Food Security chapter on the forthcoming IPCC fifth assessment report, speaks for itself. Climate change means a lot for our primary industries, and the researchers who study it are performing a vital service to Australia. This prize acknowledges that work”.
Both Mark and Jeff are presenting at the conference this week.
Thami Croeser: 0421 133 012, AJ Epstein: 0433 339 141 or email email@example.com
Media are welcome at the conference in the Olympic Room at the MCG. Enter via gate 3
More information on these stories and others at http://www.scienceinpublic.com.au/agricultureandclimate
Loose joints; safe water; the limits of executive power
Young leaders win Menzies scholarships to study in US, UK, and Australia
“Loose joints”, or hypermobility, a painful inherited condition particularly of adolescent girls; the provision of safe and adequate water resources to communities in Australia and the developing world; and examining the possibilities and limits of executive power—these are just some of the issues being tackled by this year’s crop of Menzies scholars.
Three of the scholarships will be presented at an Awards dinner tonight.
Each year the Menzies Foundation provides scholarships for graduates to pursue studies in engineering, law, business, the allied health sciences and medical research. This year seven scholarships have been awarded.
The three scholarships to be presented at the Awards dinner tonight are to:
- Mrs Verity Pacey, a senior physiotherapist at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead near Parramatta, who has won the Sir Robert Menzies Memorial Research Scholarship in Allied Health Sciences for 2013. The two-year scholarship will help her complete her PhD at The University of Sydney into the management and treatment of connective tissue dysplasias, particularly hypermobility—loose joints—an inherited condition which tends to occur most commonly in adolescent girls and can lead to pain, injury and fatigue.
- Ms Mahala McLindin, a water resources engineer with Sinclair Knight Merz (SKM) in Sydney, who has won the Sir Robert Menzies Memorial Scholarship in Engineering for 2013. Mahala will attend the School of Geography and Environment, University of Oxford, to undertake a one-year MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management.
- Mr David Heaton, a Melbourne lawyer at present working as an associate with the Boston Consulting Group, who has won the Sir Robert Menzies Memorial Scholarship in Law for 2013. David will undertake the Bachelor of Civil Law/Master of Philosophy at Oxford University over the next two years, and is particularly interested in the applications of executive power.
Four other Menzies Scholars received their awards earlier this year, and are already overseas. They are:
- Dr Sarah-Jane Dawson, a molecular biologist from the Translational Research Laboratory at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, who won the 2012 National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)/R.G. Menzies Fellowship. She has taken up a position in the Breast Cancer Functional Genomics Laboratory at the Cambridge Research Institute where she is studying breast cancer markers in the bloodstream.
- Mr Matthew Brown, an engineer and former RAAF fighter pilot, who became a financial analyst with Morgan Stanley. Matthew won a Menzies Scholarship to Harvard Business School to undertake a Master of Business Administration.
- Ms Jessica Roth, a lawyer from Mallesons Stephen Jaques in Sydney interested in human rights, who won a Menzies Scholarship to Harvard Law School to undertake a Masters in Law.
- Mr Tristan Webster, a Chartered Public Accountant with experience in the not-for-profit sector, who won a Menzies Scholarship to Harvard Business School to undertake a Master of Business Administration.
The NHMRC/R.G. Menzies Fellowship is awarded annually by the NHMRC in association with the Menzies Foundation.
The Menzies Scholarships to Harvard are awarded in association with the Harvard Club of Australia and the Australian National University.
For further information on all of the above, please contact Niall Byrne or Tim Thwaites at Science in Public (03) 9398 1416 or visit www.scienceinpublic.com.au/menzies.