MODELLING by the Primary Industries Climate Challenges Centre is showing that adoption of best practice farming techniques will ensure farmers remain profitable in the warmer and drier climate expected in future years.
The centre, based at the University of Melbourne, uses models of future climate scenarios and their impact on agriculture and works on solutions of how producers can manage the changes by adapting their farming systems.
This type of carbon farming and climate management information is being shared with farm consultants in south-east Australia through the Carbon Farming Knowledge Project. In addition to emissions management, the Australian Government funded project, , helps advisers prepare clients for potential environmental, economic and social benefits of future carbon management policy.
Centre director Richard Eckard of University of Melbourne, considers that ‘best practice’ includes techniques such as soil testing, improved selection of pasture species and composition, correct fertiliser application, introduction of legumes, and use of new shorter season cereal varieties.
“If you apply yourself to adopting the latest and best practice technology that is currently out there, technically you will be ahead of the game by 2050. If you carry on farming like you do today you would be 10-15 percent worse off,” he said.
“No one would farm in 2050 like they do today so we can adapt and even be a few percent ahead. That does take a bit of the sting out of climate change.”
The centre’s work includes using real weather data, such as up to 100 years of Bureau of Meteorology records, as a baseline to run APSIM or GrassGro models, repeating the weather data and scaling it out to 2050 to give potential ‘real-life’ scenarios.
This modelling projects that the future climate of Eastern Gippsland will be more like the current climate of Western Victoria, while that region will be more like South Australia and drying out three weeks before it does currently. In future, SA will take on the Mediterranean climate of Western Australia.
“Our simulations include the increased variability that is projected and the climate effect to 2050. So with these analogies between regions, while you might have a growing season that is three weeks shorter, that could be made up by warmer conditions in which pastures grow more quickly,” he said.
Associate Professor Eckard says the wild card is extreme weather events because there is currently no way of accurately predicting them or dealing with them, such as the extreme heatwaves in south-east Australia that have affected plant growth and food production.
“There is no way of dealing with the heat waves we have experienced. No matter what you do in preparation for it there is not much you can do about them. You can only make sure the stock that have shade, shelter and water. You can’t do much about the pasture,” he said.
He says research is continuing into how the likelihood of extreme events can be predicted and what can be done in response.
“At the centre, we are observing cattle in heat chambers and the factors that change their physiology, what can be done from a diet point of view, how they become stressed and what else, other than shade, shelter and water, can be done about those stresses.”
Eckard says the best methods of extreme weather event prediction are the climate indicators, for example when oscillation indexes are in a positive or negative phase.
“A negative phase of the Southern Oscillation Index could indicate a warmer spring and summer and the chance of extreme heat days increases,” he said. “The centre currently has a PhD project assessing whether stored soil moisture readings can be combined with the SOI phase to generate indicators for pasture and crop growth.”
Through the Carbon Farming Knowledge Project, 30 independent agricultural advisers in south-east Australia are learning more about how farming systems can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, store carbon and benefit from the Australian Government’s Emissions Reduction Fund.
The project advisers attend carbon farming workshops every six months to increase their carbon farming skills. This in turn enables them to work with about 600 broadacre farmers, and at least 25 grower groups, to increase their knowledge base. The next workshop is set for early August 2015.
Each workshop has featured expert speakers on a range of topics relevant to carbon farming in broadacre agriculture such as nitrogen use efficiency, nitrous oxide emissions, farm forestry, livestock and methane production and overall climate trends. Speaker summaries have been produced for growers and advisers to use, they include:
- Using models to make informed climate decisions, Graeme Anderson and Dale Grey, Victorian Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources
- Climate modelling 202, Roger Stone, University of Southern Queensland
- Emissions Reduction Fund and the future for carbon trading, Richard Eckard
- Abatement opportunities under the ERF, Commonwealth Government
- Carbon trading in practice, Ben Keogh, Australian Carbon Traders
These summaries are available at https://carbonfarmingknowledge.com.au/resources/
Ben Keogh, Australian Carbon Traders, Richard Eckard, University of Melbourne and Mark Stanley, Regional Connections at the recent Carbon Farming Knowledge advisers workshop in Adelaide.