22 January 2013 — Australia’s farmers will need to adapt to changing climate conditions, the CSIRO says.

CSIRO climate applications scientist Steve Crimp told the ABC that across most of southern Australia, the projections of the future were for warmer and drier conditions.

“So when we experience warm and dry conditions, growing those crops, canola, wheat, barley, etc, will be more challenging in the future,” he said.

A CSIRO report, State of the Climate, warns climate change will threaten Australia’s farming productivity form crops to livestock.

Mr Crimp said there were “certainly are some crops that are more sensitive to climate variations”.

“Canola would be one of those crops, wheat and barley would be more drought-tolerant and harder crops to produce.

“We have some historical analogues where under dry conditions canola is sometimes removed from the crop rotation, so crops like canola will be less favourable to those drier future conditions.”

The CSIRO’s Climate Adaptation Flagship program says Australia’s farming regions will witness a change in agriculture, with the industry continuing but not “the same things in the same places”.

Meanwhile a Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry study found that 14 per cent of primary producers still do not accept human inducted climate change.

It found there were five key segments within the primary producer community:

• Drought affected adapters (20 per cent) — do not accept climate change but have started adapting farming practices to cope with severe climate challenges.

• Drought affected cautious adapters (26 per cent) — accept climate change as a reality and a personal responsibility to adapt farming practices that mitigate their production of greenhouse gasses—but are looking for specific direction and assistance from government.

• Climate change sceptics (21 per cent) — do not accept climate change, haven’t been as severely affected by drought and do not accept they have a responsibility to take action.

• Strugglers (19 per cent) — do not accept climate change and are struggling and striving to operate profitably. Adaptation and mitigation is limited by financial viability and many other competing worries and concerns but this segment will look for assistance from government.

• Independents (14 per cent)—do not accept human-induced climate change, nor their responsibility to mitigate their carbon emissions and claim to not be as interested in government assistance. However, this is probably more a publicly stated view than reality.

The CSIRO’s Climate Adaptation Flagship Program has found that the expected negative economic impacts of climate change on primary industries were likely to be made worse by the positive impacts expected in many competing trading nations.

The Flagship is working with primary industries, enterprises and communities to adapt to climate change by:

  • providing practical adaptation strategies that will ensure the long term viability of rural enterprises and communities threatened by climate change
  • exploring adaptation options and tools for agriculture, forestry, fisheries and mining industries and communities that can assist policy makers to minimise negative consequences of climate change and take advantage of new opportunities
  • developing new management techniques and technologies that enable industries and enterprises to adapt to climate change.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics for 2010-2011 shows the changing farm scene includes:

CROPS

  • Production increased nationally for barley (up by 2 per cent), grain sorghum (28 per cent), rice (268 per cent), cotton (140 per cent) and canola (24 per cent) since 2009-10.
  • Area planted to sorghum (633,000 hectares), rice (76,000 ha), cotton (588,000 ha), lupins (756,000 ha) and canola (2.1 million tonnes) increased in 2010-11.
  • Australia’s largest crop wheat, increased its production by more than a quarter, up to 27.4 million tonnes in 2010-11. Conversely the area planted to wheat decreased slightly, by 3 per cent to 13.5 million hectares.

HORTICULTURE

  • Pear and apple production rose in 2010-11.
  • Tomato production fell by more than one third to 302,000 tonnes mainly due to heavy rain and flooding in Victoria and New South Wales.
  • Area planted to potatoes fell 12 per cent to 32,000 ha since 2009-10, continuing an historical decline in potato plantings.

LIVESTOCK

  • Total numbers of sheep and lambs in Australia increased by 7 per cent to 73.1 million compared with 2009-10.
  • Dairy cattle numbers increased slightly to 2.6 million head, meat cattle numbers rose by 8 per cent to 25.9 million head.
  • Pig numbers remained steady at 2.3 million head. Increases in Western Australia, Queensland and Tasmania were offset by decreases in the remaining states.