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What the Changing Climate Means for Aussie Agriculture

Last year’s wetter and warmer weather than average could be a sign of things to come. And that trend is not just because Australian agriculture has endured three La Niña weather patterns in a row.

Uncertainty and extremes are the themes for our country’s future climate and globally. Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its six-yearly report, which synthesised 14,000 scientific papers. Since the pre-industrial age, global temperatures have risen 1.1oC due to burning fossil fuels.

The report notes “observed widespread impacts and related losses and damages due to climate change”, such as:

  • Physical water availability
  • Agricultural/crop production
  • Animal and livestock health and productivity
  • Fisheries yields and aquaculture production.

2022 in review 

As for Australia, the international report and the State of the Climate 2022 report, issued by Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) offer these facts:

  • Average annual temperatures have increased by 1.4oC since records began in 2020
  • More extreme fire weather days and longer fire seasons across large parts of Australia in the past seven decades
  • Increased rainfall and streamflow since the 1970s across parts of the north, yet less streamflow elsewhere, and
  • 10% decreased April-to-November rainfall in our southeast and down 15% for the southwest.

As for shorter-term changes, there’s a 50% chance of the drier phenomenon – El Niño – starting later this year.

Why should farmers care about climate change?

Impact on farm profits

The increasing extremes of weather patterns translate to a range of challenges for farmers in the future, says PreventionWeb, managed by The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Expected challenges to impact farm profits include:

  • Floods disrupting farming activities due to sodden soils, possibly for weeks
  • Lost topsoil due to water erosion
  • Biosecurity and breeding issues: Death or disease for flood-affected or parched stock
  • Inability to transport products for processing or sale when floods damage and block roads
  • Warmer temps lead to longer droughts and more extreme fire weather
  • The harsher climate stresses crops and attracts new pests that prefer warmer temps
  • Crop growth and yields affected by increased carbon dioxide from green gas emissions.

Between 2001 and 2020, climate change has reduced average yearly farm profits by almost 23%, according to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES). The worst-affected activities are cropping (northern, western and southern regions) and mixed sheep.

Farmers are adapting to dry conditions

Recent decades show farming practices can successfully adjust to changing conditions, including:

  • Conservation tillage to protect the soil surface, reducing runoff and erosion
  • Shifting cropping to higher rainfall areas rather than persisting in marginal or drought-exposed areas
  • Integrating crop, livestock and forestry systems, such as with regenerative agricultural practices, as this research review shows.

How can farmers adapt?

Apart from the above suggestions, farmers should actively seek updates from reputable government, industry and commercial bodies on research about agricultural practices and technology. As well, tap into improved real-time weather information and forecasting. Here’s a list of the top nine weather apps for Australian farmers, and this one from CSIRO for weather information down to the paddock level.

ABARES expects climate change will lead to tougher conditions and the need for farms to make significant adaptations, some of which have already started.

Re-visiting risk management

Consider boosting risk management for your unique farming operations with the appropriate insurance, such as crop and/or livestock cover. Generally, crop insurance protects your farm against the risks of fire, hail, rain and frost. You can opt for a specific policy to cover multi or single peril. The latter, also known as weather parametric insurance, offers coverage for lack of rain, frost, wind (cyclone) and too much rain, for instance.

Meanwhile, farm livestock insurance also offers a choice of covers, including:

  • Farm property insurance for defined events – fire, malicious damage, lightning strike, etc. to livestock
  • Full mortality livestock cover, which covers the above as well as illness, disease, and accidental damage
  • Stud stock insurance for individual animals. They’ll be covered for defined events (as in the first point above), full loss of use, illness and disease.

Whatever climate change brings to your farm, there’s plenty you can do to manage the onslaught and adapt. Talk to us for more guidance and to make sure your insurance aligns with your risk management strategy.