Farmers need to adapt and modify their farming practices to embrace the changing climate and remain viable rather than try to specifically reduce their carbon footprint.
Primary Industries Climate Challenges Centre director Richard Eckard said that south-eastern Australian farmers are already experiencing the effects of climate change, with 2015 being 1oC warmer than long term averages.
“Farmers are dealing with the effects of a one-degree temperature increase, including a strong trend of less winter rainfall and more summer rainfall,” Professor Eckard said.
The change in climate is having noticeable impacts in all agricultural industries, from changes in livestock farmers’ pasture growth patterns and increases in heat and frost risk for grain growers to earlier harvesting of wine grapes.
“The global target for climate change is to limit the temperature increase to 1.5oC-2oC, so the level of accepted global warming will be another 0.5-1oC warmer than last year,” Prof Eckard said.
“This means future agriculture in Australia will need to undertake significant adaption to remain viable.
“The challenge for agriculture advisors is to help farmers adapt to manage the reduced winter rainfall and make better use of sporadic summer rainfall.”
Prof Eckard is one of a number of industry experts working with 30 independent agricultural advisors from south-eastern Australia at a series of workshops for the Carbon Farming Knowledge Project. This is an Australian Government-funded initiative to help advisors prepare clients for the impacts of climate change, carbon farming and understand the potential benefits of future carbon management policy including the government’s Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF).
Prof Eckard said the recent Paris Agreement included a specific clause for food production.
“The Paris Agreement represents a new global climate deal and a key component of the deal for agriculture is a specified requirement that global food production should not be threatened,” he said.
“In agriculture there are currently few technological solutions to cost effectively reduce overall emissions without threatening food production and profitability, which means there is not much scope for farmers to significantly reduce their greenhouse gas footprint.”
Researchers are investigating methods of reducing emissions from food production including low-methane livestock systems and reducing nitrous oxide emissions from fertiliser, which account for more than 80 per cent of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions.
“In the meantime, the most important thing for farmers to focus on is working with their advisors to adapt their farming systems to make the most of the changing climate so their businesses can remain viable,” Prof Eckard said.
The most significant potential opportunity for farmers is to reduce the intensity of their emissions by improving production efficiencies. Whilst this may not necessarily reduce overall GHG emissions - especially if farmers are able increase production as a result of these efficiency gains - they are reducing emissions per unit of food they are producing.
Carbon Farming Knowledge workshops feature expert speakers on a range of topics relevant to carbon farming in broadacre agriculture. Speaker summaries have been produced for growers and advisors to use with recent summaries including:
- More Lambs More Often, Jason Tromph, La Trobe University.
- Emissions reduction in livestock enterprises, Leanne Sheriff, Macquarie Franklin, Anne Jackson, CropFacts and John Ferrier, Wirrabilla.
- The emissions story; globally, nationally and locally, Richard Eckard, University of Melbourne.
- Soil carbon, Lynne Macdonald and Clive Kirkby, CSIRO and Brian Murphy, NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.
- Emissions reduction in grain farms, Elizabeth Meier, CSIRO and Marit Kragt, University of WA.
Professor Eckard, 03 9035 8265, email@example.com
, and project manager Mark Stanley, 0427 831 151.
Advisors participating in the Carbon Farming Knowledge program are based throughout south-eastern Australia. Journalists wanting comment from a local advisor can find a list of participants at carbonfarmingknowledge.com.au/carbon-farming-advisors-in-australia/
Richard Eckart with project manager Mark Stanley at a Carbon Farming Knowledge workshops. Click on the image for a high resolution version.