Farming in a changing climate was the theme at the recent GRDC supported WANTFA Conference in Perth.
University of Western Australia Associate Professor Ross Kingwell, Chief Economist with DAFWA, addressed the economics of climate change and the implications for growers.
He pointed out that projected climate change is a big challenge for farmers and scientists because growing conditions in many parts of the traditional grainbelt of WA could become less favourable.
WA is a major source of the nation’s grain exports, so responding to the climate change challenge is in the national interest.
Professor Kingwell said many farms have diversified, with portfolios of on-farm enterprises and off-farm investments, yet accompanying this diversity is a skewed distribution of wealth and farm size. This has implications for the sector’s response to climate change.
Large businesses may be better able to spatially diversify, giving them the potential to capitalise on, or modify, climate change and variability impacts.
The way forward for growers was to ensure their capacity to adapt was not impaired. In the near term this meant improved options for managing current climate variability.
He pointed to the need for collaboration between scientists and farmers to: deliver more efficient water use; deliver new varieties with greater drought, heat-shock and pest and disease resistance; reduce crop production risk by staggered planting, better erosion control, minimal soil disturbance and crop residue retention; facilitate crop operations via better weather forecasting.
Professor Kingwell said simulation and projection studies show a “complex spatial story”, where climate change impacts could vary greatly across regions, with some facing much bigger climate challenges than others.
If the rate of climate change was faster than has been suggested, the ability of farm businesses to adjust and remain profitable would be a real challenge.
He suggested that grower reliance on regionally relevant, climate related and anticipatory R&D will increase. Appropriate innovation and adjustment will be the keys to successful farming in the face of climate change, he said.