Climate Change Will Force Farmers To Adapt: CSIRO

Jan 16th, 2013 | By | Category: Adaptation, Agriculture, Biodiversity, Carbon, Development and Climate Change, Ecosystem Functions, Global Warming, Green House Gas Emissions, Health and Climate Change, Lessons, News, Research, Resilience, Technologies, Vulnerability, Weather, Website-eNews Portal
Photo: The CSIRO says Australia's farming regions and crops will look different in a warmer future. (Tim Wimborne: Reuters)

Photo: The CSIRO says Australia’s farming regions and crops will look different in a warmer future. (Tim Wimborne: Reuters)

ABC: What effect will climate change have on agriculture and food production? This is the second of a five-part series in which environment reporter Sarah Clarke sets out to provide answers.

Australia’s farmers will need to adapt to cope with a potentially hotter and drier continent as the effects of climate change take hold, scientists say.

As the UN’s chief science body meets in Hobart today to update the latest climate modelling, the CSIRO says forecasts show Australia will have to cope with less rainfall, longer dry periods and crops struggling to grow in changing conditions.

CSIRO climate applications scientist Steve Crimp says the nation’s agricultural sector will likely feel the heat of a hotter climate.

“Certainly across most of southern Australia, the projections of the future are 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 warns climate change will threaten Australia’s farming productivity and says grazing livestock, particularly cattle, will be stressed as a result and less likely to breed.

Central Australia is predicted to experience the greatest warming.

Modelling shows irrigated cropping may also be challenged, especially in the south east where water is drawn from upstream in the Murray-Darling Basin.

The CSIRO forecasts all cropping could be hit by less rainfall.

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

“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.”

Crop yields

Across parts of Queensland and over the border into northern New South Wales around Moree, it is predicted crop yields could fall, and the quality of cotton will be affected.

But there may also be some opportunities as the country warms.

Some crops may be able to expand into areas currently too wet to farm and less frosts in parts of Queensland and northern NSW may increase the types of crops that could be grown there.

If rainfall increases in the Top End, the CSIRO says a cotton industry could be an option and horticulture could expand.

But heat stress, flooding, erosion and cyclones could also cause some damage.

Mark Howden from the CSIRO’s Climate Adaptation Flagship program says Australia’s farming regions will look different in the future.

“What we probably will see is a change in agriculture so we won’t see the same things in the same places, but we will see a strong continuation of agriculture across Australia,” he said.

Despite the scheduled release of the UN climate body’s fifth major climate change paper in September, climate change is still an issue questioned by some, particularly among farmers.

A recent survey indicates about 20 per cent of primary producers do not accept the science.

Either way, the nation’s chief farming body says it is investing in adaptation as a key part of its survival strategy.

National Farmers Federation chief executive Matt Linnegar says he is confident Australia’s farmers will rise to the challenge.

“The last thing farmers are is silly,” he said.

“If we start to see major shifts in those areas and despite all the good work and the R&D, then people will respond.”

This is the second in a five-part series by Sarah Clarke on climate impacts.

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