Even sceptical farmers are adapting as the weather gets weirder

Climate change will affect how we farm, but we’re not at the point of ‘adapt or die’. Right now the meme is ‘adapt and profit’.

Today’s stories from the agriculture and climate change conference range from farmers sharing practical, on-the-ground experiences, to CSIRO’s take on how ready the industry as a whole is looking. Also: a story about changing fisheries and it’s not good news for the Christmas lobster; prizes announced; and methane – agriculture versus permafrost.

Climate actions trump beliefs: Victoria’s farmers are sceptical but would rather adapt than debate

Many Victorian farmers aren’t convinced by the evidence on climate change, but that isn’t stopping them from getting ready for a hotter, dryer climate.

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 Victorian researcher Chris 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.

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 set to drop to drought levels again, and yet Peter’s projected a profitable crop rather than the failed harvests of years past.

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’.

A hot cow or a lame cow is not a happy cow. Lynne’s focus on the landscape and the wellbeing of her cattle makes her farm highly efficient and productive – and ready for the increasingly warm, wet weather that’s predicted for her region.

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? Ask CSIRO’s Dr Andrew Ash and Dr Mark Howden at CSIRO today.

Climate change moves at triple speed in our south-eastern fisheries: will our lobsters keep up?

Australia’s south-eastern waters warming three times faster than the global average. This threatens our rock lobster and abalone populations, but might bring new fishing opportunities too. Researchers at CSIRO are saying that it’s time to change how we fish, and what we catch.

Permafrost versus burping cows – which produces the most methane

Methane emissions from agriculture dwarf the output of the permafrost, despite the concerns in yesterday’s UN report. For each tonne of methane coming from the Arctic each year, we can expect at least two from agriculture.  We can’t stop the permafrost melting but we can reduce livestock emissions.

For interviews: Thami Croeser: 0421 133 012, AJ Epstein: 0433 339 141, or email niall@scienceinpublic.com.au.

More information at www.scienceinpublic.com.au/agricultureandclimate