Australia’s farming future

Australia’s farming future was recently discussed at the Future Farming Forum held at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga.

The forum highlighted strategies, such as changing calving or lambing times, to help both livestock and grain producers adapt to a changing climate.

Speakers Michael Cashen, Phil Graham, Warwick Badgery and Phil Bowden all from New South Wales Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) presented the results from the SLA project which was funded through the Australian Government’s $46.2 million Climate Change Research Program.

Climate champions and local farmers Russell Ford and John Ive also shared their experience and insights on the future opportunities and challenges for the farming sector.

Michael Cashen, agricultural climatologist for NSW DPI discussed the adaptive response to changes in climate relevant to southern NSW.

Mr Cashen said research showed the synoptic patterns in the Riverina area was changing.

“The Wagga Wagga area receives 550 – 600 millimetres of rainfall annually, however when we are getting the rainfall is changing,” Mr Cashen said.

“We are seeing higher rainfall in the summer and lower rainfall throughout autumn.”

Mr Cashen also discussed the way in which plants and animals respond to temperature change.

“The Central West area is exposed to increased temperature and rainfall and cropping and livestock systems are sensitive to this,” he said.

Phil Bowden, NSW DPI district agronomist for Cootamundra, discussed climate adaptation in cropping systems in southern NSW.

He revealed the results from research conducted on farms in three different regions, Cowra, Cootamundra and Holbrook.

“The findings from each of the sites found that canola was more susceptible to changes,” Mr Bowden said.

“The Holbrook site had a 10% wheat yield increase; however Cowra was more variable with a decrease in yield.

“There was an initial increase in yield with wheat and there was a definite decrease in canola yield across most sites.”

Mr Bowden also discussed adaptation options

including changing the time of sowing and a 16 month continuous fallow.

“At the Holbrook site earlier sowing of wheat revealed an increase of 10% yield and at Cowra a late sowing also showed a 10% increase in yield.

“Results are positive with a definite yield benefit of 10% increase by 2030 – 2050.

“The research has revealed wheat production can handle some change, yet canola production suffers yield loss and becomes much more variable compared to wheat.

“Farming is about coping with change and we need to be prepared for the changes,” he said.

Phil Graham Grazing systems specialist for NSW DPI discussed climate adaptation options for southern livestock.

“The pasture growing time is becoming increasingly shorter and this will become worse heading towards 2030,” Mr Graham said.

“The stocking rate is going to drop and we need to change the way we manage our livestock to turn around the downward trend.

“We should be putting our livestock into smaller

feeding areas, especially in drier times to protect the paddocks.

“This is not an annual thing it is something producers will need to do probably three years out of ten, but something they should be doing.

“Producers also need to be increasing the genetic quality of their livestock, if each head of animal can increase productivity by 15 – 20% it will allow for an increase of income for the farmer without having to increase the size of the herd,” he said.

There was an open discussion at the end of the forum and everyone agreed Australian farmers need to start thinking about adaptation options for the future.

“While some will have to do more than others to cope, the more confident a producer is about their management decisions, the more capable they will be to adapt to a changing climate,” Mr Graham said.

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