FARMERS and graziers in Australia’s tropical north will have to finetune their seasonal management practices in order to deal with climate change.
This is the view of Professor Mark Howden, director of the Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University.
One of his specialist areas is climate change and its impacts on agriculture and food security.
Speaking at last month’s Australian Meat Processor Corporation’s Sustainability Conference in Sydney, Prof Howden said animals impacted by rising temperature and heat stress would eat less and become less productive.
He said carbon dioxide levels were at 400 parts per million in the atmosphere, while the pre-industrial level was 280 parts per million.
“If anyone says to you we’ve seen all this before, well, they’re wrong,” he said.
Prof Howden said the challenges presented by climate change could be met, but would require some strategic thinking.
“There are already things happening to our climate, which feeds straight in to our production systems,” Prof Howden said.
In an interview with the Townsville Bulletin, Prof Howden said that. by the end of this decade, temperatures in North Queensland would have increased by one degree Celsius. He said less rainfall was another reality.
“From Townsville to Ayr and north to Innisfail, there has been a reduction in rainfall over the recent decades,” he said.
“I think this is a reasonable guide for the future and that the years will become drier on average.”
Prof Howden said the role of Bos indicus or Brahman cattle, which were able to withstand hot, dry conditions, would become more pronounced in the region.
He said graziers wanting to introduce European bloodlines into their Brahman herds would have to calculate the risks involved with mixing “softer” European genetics with the more resilient genes of the Indian Brahman.
“Fundamentally agriculture is about matching what you do with the resources available and the environment in which you operate,” he said.
“A good farmer always matches what they are doing with genetics, inputs and management with that environment and what we have seen over decades is Australian farmers becoming increasingly more adept at doing that.”
Prof Howden said farmers were already good at managing short and long-term droughts, but added that with climate change now happening, they would have to become even more flexible in how they approached the management of future dry spells.
“It involves a lot of forethought and planning,” he said.
Prof Howden said climate change would make farming in the inland harder, but not impossible.
He said irrigation would be essential for agriculture in the inland.
However, he could see no reason why climate change would rule out the development of agriculture in inland areas.
He said a recent survey of farmers showed that 80 per cent recognised changes in the climate and were already adapting their management practises.
“They are starting to manage things differently. They know that their livelihood is connected to how they manage climate. It is a big incentive to get things right,” he said.
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