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Farmers quiet on climate change impact

Farmers have been quiet on the predicted impact of global warming according to one author of a recent report collating data on climate change across agriculture and horticulture within Australia. The report, Appetite for Change - global warming impacts on food and farming regions in Australia, was prepared by the University of Melbourne’s Sustainable Society Institute to coincide with Earth Hour – when citizens will turn out their lights and not use electricity for one hour on March 28. It describes the predicted impact the earth’s warming will have on 55 different crops and agricultural commodities, and broader impact on temporal zones and different regions. Many regions across Australia are expected to warm between 0.6 and 1.2 degrees Celsius by 2030, and as much as 4 or 5 degrees by 2070. This will mean shorter growing seasons, or a shift in harvest times, more sunburnt, rain affected or damaged fruit and smaller areas suitable for growing certain crops such as berries. 

“Apart from those we’ve interviewed for the report, the farmer side’s been quiet.” Notes one of the report’s authors, Professor Richard Eckard, director of the Primary Industries Climate Challenges Centre at the University of Melbourne. “Most are facing change and are already adapting to these changes, but they are dealing with an underlying culture where the threat of climate change itself isn’t seen as real. I think it’s partly that climate change is seen as being aligned with a particular political view and that has to change before we see real action.” 

“I would argue that some industries are aware of it [the impact of increasing emissions], and acknowledges that adaptation is an important area of research for industry in Australia,” says another of the report’s authors, Dr Rebecca Darbyshire, who also runs an adaptation project for fruit trees with the University of Melbourne. “There’s been a lot of interest from the media, but it’s too soon to gauge what grower feedback is.” “Overall in terms of horticulture there is an understanding that there will be either a shorter season or a shift, and in general southward movement or a movement up slopes in terms of where crops are grown.”

The solution to the problem lies in trying to disentangle climate change from politics, according to Professor Eckard. “Farmers need a price signal in order to make significant change. When that signal comes for action to be profitable, then there will be a reduction in carbon emissions.” Dr Darbyshire agrees that the process is political, but she also sees potential for innovation and research, as Australia is increasingly viewed as a ‘benchmark’ for future impacts of climate change around the world. “Arguably we’re one of the driest continents in the world. We are an example to the world in a lot of ways and I certainly get international researchers inquiring. There is a lot of potential, but we’ve got to drive the innovation,” she notes.

Dr Darbyshire is also keen to emphasise that certain crops, including sweet potato, are expected to either flatline or thrive as temperatures warm, and Professor Eckard also points out that worldwide some climactic zones, including New Zealand are set to benefit from climate change in the immediate short term. “If you go and speak to a New Zealand farmer and tell them ‘you’re going to have to learn to adapt’ they’ll look at you and say ‘adapt to what?’ – they hear that there will be warmer, wetter weather in New Zealand and say ‘bring it on’” he adds. 

For more information

To contact one of the authors of the report:
Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute
Phone: +61 (03) 9035 8235
Twitter: @MSSIMelb

View the report online here 

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