Summer 2013 - Volume 4 Issue 2
Welcome to the Winter Edition of Milking the Weather for 2013. In this edition;
- We turn the spotlight on David James, a service provider in the dairy industry who is rising to the challenge of climate change.
- our feature article titled "Advanced New Weather Forecasting" looks at Bureau of Meteorology's (BoM) switch to dynamical, or physics-based, forecasting - a step closer to multi week forecasts.
- Dealing with the season ahead explores feed planning options given the winter outlook for rainfall is average to slightly wetter.
Dairy State Round
Seasonal Climate Outlook
Adapted from the Fast Break newsletter
The Pacific Ocean remains at neutral temperatures, common for this time of the year. Associated pressure, cloud and wind patterns are close to normal. The undersea coolness remained in May and has broken out further in the eastern surface, though models are still mixed on this hanging around.
In the Indian Ocean, waters off Sumatra warmed slightly but importantly, during May, waters cooled off the coast of Kenya. Much of the water off the Indonesian archipelago remains warmer to depth as well. The DMI index is currently at a weak IOD- threshold. Many models predict the eastern Indian Ocean will warm further and remain in an Indian Ocean Dipole negative pattern over winter-spring.
Moisture sources to Victoria from the Indian and Pacific Ocean are currently slightly enhanced. The SAM was weakly positive over most of May and has recently made a brief foray into the negative, but models predict a weakly positive trend for the next 14 days.
The latitude of the STR has been at a normal position for much of May but high pressure systems have been still sitting over Victoria blocking some rain-bearing systems. Models favour average/slightly wetter and average/slightly warmer conditions for winter.
Seasonal model forecasts for Victoria over the next three months
|Current outlook (May 27)||Past outlook (April 26)|
|PACIFIC OCEAN:||Neutral / slightly cool||PACIFIC OCEAN:||Neutral / slightly cool|
|INDIAN OCEAN:||Slightly warm (IOD-)||INDIAN OCEAN:||Slightly warm|
|RAINFALL:||Average / slightly wetter||RAINFALL:||Average|
|TEMPERATURE:||No clear signal||TEMPERATURE:||Average / slightly warmer|
The 30 day SOI remained within neutral bounds over May, indicative of normal pressure patterns in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. Recently the SOI has rapidly risen to +12.7, due to lower pressure at Darwin.
The SSTs in the Pacific Ocean Equatorial region have cooled this month, particularly in the east, but remain at normal levels. (NINO3.4 -0.14oC). The Indian Ocean off Sumatra has warmed slightly and the Indian Ocean has cooled off Kenya. The IOD index is currently at a weak IOD- threshold
The Southern Annular Mode spent much of May in weakly positive territory having not been negative for some time. A recent small dip into negative territory is predicted to be followed by a fortnight of weakly positive behaviour
The Sub Tropical Ridge of high pressure shows a better than normal autumn position for this time of the year with latitude at the top of the Bite. The Longitude of high pressure systems is spending more time centered over Victoria, which is blocking a lot of fronts
Modelled Climate and Ocean Predictions
For a closer look at what models are predicting for Victoria in the next 6 months, focussing on Indian and Pacific Oceans, rainfall and temperature, view the Modelled Climate and Ocean Predictions Table.
Like a number of service providers in the dairy industry, understanding the drivers of climate change certainly challenge their thinking and the way they approach work roles when engaging with customers and stakeholders. Maria Rose (DEPI Maffra) recently interviewed David James after hearing that he had not long finished a Postgraduate Certificate in Climate Change at Melbourne University and was applying his learning in earnest at his workplace. The following excerpts from this interview highlight how David, as a service provider in the dairy industry, is rising to the challenge of Climate Change.
Q. What is your main role at Fonterra and what main events led to you doing a Postgraduate Certificate in Climate Change?
I am the Farm Sustainability Manager within the Milk Supply team for Fonterra Australia. I work with our farmer suppliers to help them understand how to reduce their input costs and increase productivity, so that they can become more profitable and hence sustainable. This also helps Fonterra in that we have a milk pool that is reliable and as productivity increases our emission intensity decreases; positive messages that we can give both our customers and consumers.
As a business that is constantly being challenged, we were having more and more strategic discussions around sustainability which coincided with the time that the Post Graduate Certificate in Climate Change was offered to industry people like me. This course was developed and initially offered only to staff of the Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) Victoria1, specifically to fast-track the development of climate change capabilities for professionals in the agriculture sector who provide services to farmers. So when service providers outside DEPI were given the opportunity to attend, I jumped at the opportunity.
1 DPI is now known (the Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI).
By enrolling for the Certificate in Climate Change for Primary Industries Course, I wanted to get a better understanding of what Climate Change actually was and what impact it might have on Fonterra the milk company and its farmer suppliers. Now it is a case of taking this knowledge and together with the Milk Supply team, developing extension strategies around how we can involve our dairy farmers in Climate Change conversations more.
There is growing awareness around global warming and the impact this warming is having on our immediate and long term climate. I know there are still climate sceptics in the community but I am no longer one of them. You can see that governments are taking the threat seriously as well. In Australia we have the Clean Energy Futures legislation, in New Zealand they have an Emission Trading Scheme, China is talking about a carbon tax and President Obama indicated in his State of the Union speech that the USA will be looking to do the same.
At the time, Dairy Australia had recently released their dairy industry Carbon Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) results and that showed that around 80 percent of the dairy greenhouse gas footprint is on farm. This is mostly in the form of Methane and Nitrous Oxide, as a result of ruminant digestion and the breakdown of urea / nitrogen based fertilisers. While Agriculture is exempt from the LCA in Australia, it is still the duty of the dairy industry community to consider ways and means to reduce their Greenhouse Gas footprint.
Q. What are the key elements that you studied in this Post Grad Certificate Course?
There were four subject areas we covered during the course. Each one was done as a weeklong block course with a pre-course assignment, a group project that was presented as a seminar on the last day of the block course and an industry based major assignment at the completion of the block course. The major assignment was based on your industry and utilised what you had learnt during the course and from relevant applicable references. The order of the subjects was done to better understand how each aspect linked to the other so we started with climate theory, then looked at mitigation opportunities, adaptation activities and finally the economic response.
To do them justice I will borrow my descriptions from the course outline, which interested people can find at: http://www.commercial.unimelb.edu.au/climatechange/
Climate Variability and Climate Change. This subject introduced us to the fundamental processes and dynamics important for climate variability and climate change in the Australian region using both observations and climate models. We engaged in discussions on the development of regional climate change scenarios using climate model outputs and their application for a range of climate change impact studies.
Greenhouse Gases from Agriculture - In this subject we were instructed about the processes by which greenhouse gases evolve from agricultural systems, and the basis of that understanding, including options for mitigation. The principle focus was on enteric methane and nitrous oxide emissions from soils, fertilisers and animal waste. We were also introduced to accounting frameworks to assist us to evaluate mitigation options and consider potential for carbon trading.
Climate Changes and Agricultural Adaption - This subject examined the potential impacts of current and projected climate changes on food production in the world's major agricultural areas. It used Victorian and Australian agriculture, with their broad ranges of industries and climatic zones, as an exemplar of the potential adaption strategies that may be implemented to ensure the sustainability of food production.
Climate and Economic Strategy - This subject aimed to introduce us to economic ways of thinking about appropriate responses of businesses to changes in their operating environment as a result of concerns about climate change. We also assessed the expected costs and benefits of changing climatic conditions for agricultural production in Australia and internationally. Additionally, policies to curb greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon taxes or an emissions trading scheme were explained and analysed.
Q. What have you taken from the course and applied to change the way you engage with farmers about Climate Change?
I have used my new knowledge directly on farm. In my conversations with farmers, I now have a language style and techniques to explain the elements of Climate Change more accurately. As a result, my discussions these days with farmers and colleagues are in the context of more extreme events; around "How do you manage the prolonged dries?" or "How do you manage your nutrient program?" as key examples. Right now, most of my conversations are around the fact that it is getting hotter - we went through the millennium drought, then the big wet and now it seems that we are moving into a dry period again.
Understanding weather patterns in Australia - be that from the Southern Annular Modulation, El Nino, Indian Ocean Dipole etc. means that the conversations I have are more relevant to the farmer right now. A reference tool I use a lot is the Climate Dogs animations put out by DEPI - these provide great explanations in general terms of how each of the predominant weather patterns affects Victoria
Of late, our discussions with farmers have been around the carbon tax. Agriculture is exempt from direct costs but there are carryover costs from electricity, fertiliser and other farm inputs. We recently developed a dairy shed energy assessment tool with AgVet Projects and Dairy Australia which has been useful in quantifying the cost to the farmer and reducing the inaccuracy of information out there. The secondary benefit from my completing this Climate Change course has been the opportunity to expand relevant conversations to be more "sustainable practice" focused.
We have also had a big focus on Nutrient Management Planning (NMP), working with both Dairy Australia (via their Fert$mart program) and the Fertiliser Industry Federation of Australia (via their Fertcare accreditation program) to raise the bar around NMP on dairy farms. Whilst still in its infancy, the NMP program has been well received and we are now receiving funding from government sources to increase the number of farmers and associated dairying properties we are working with.
Also I am gathering information and learning as much as I can on emissions reduction opportunities (including methane and nitrous oxide), so that I can share the knowledge with my colleagues and farmers. This personal interest came out of the learning about mitigation during the Climate Change course. There are potential opportunities for our suppliers to undertake emission reduction activities. These include the capturing of methane coming off effluent ponds and or changing feed sources given to cows which could allow carbon credits under the Carbon Farming Initiative to be claimed. Additionally this might provide an alternative income stream to dairy farmers, so it is worthwhile exploring.
The scientific evidence clearly shows that the planet is getting hotter and it's going to keep on getting hotter until humans stop emitting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and even then there will be a lag phase once we stop. As the global temperatures increase, traditional rainfall and weather patterns are going to change (in fact are already changing - as we know from our experiences in Australia where every month we break records for temperature and rainfall) and extreme weather events are going to increase. So the key thing I believe we should focus on is helping our farmer supplier to adapt to all these changes. My discussions with farmers therefore currently focus on the ways to adapt, which include thinking about the following aspects;
- Using water more efficiently on our pastures / sheds and as stock water,
- Seeking ways to reduce energy reduction or move to renewable sources,
- Considering alternative ways to feeding cows - feed pads, mini feed lotting,
- Changing the feed sources
- Having better ways of dealing with point sources of effluent - and in fact consider how we can manage diffuse sources as well,
- Rolling out on-farm nutrient plans (Fert$mart and Fertcare) on every farm,
- Reviewing pasture species that are better suited to the changing conditions,
- Protecting biodiversity and soil erosion by excluding stock from waterways and wetlands,
- Encouraging programs to minimise heat stress on cows,
- Looking at cow size and breed,
The list is almost endless but that is what makes it such an exciting place to be right now.
Probably, the other key benefit I have gained from the course is that I have a much larger network now. It spans a range of aspects of the dairy industry, and in fact most primary industries throughout Australia. This country has amazing resources and passionate people - but sometimes it is hard to know where to find them and this course has allowed me a far greater opportunity to know where they are.
Advanced new weather forecasting
By Zita Ritchie, adapted from an article Advanced new weather forecasting - GRDC's Ground Cover magazine (Issue 104, May-June 2013)
Multi-week forecasts have come a step closer with the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), switching to dynamical, or physics-based, forecasting.
The BoM's new seasonal forecast system called POAMA (Predictive Ocean Atmosphere Model for Australia), is replacing the statistical system used for the 3-month outlook, which was based on historical relationships between climate and indicators such as the Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures.
Dr Andrew Watkins from the BoM says the first dynamical seasonal forecast will be available this winter. He says dynamical models look at the full spectrum of climatic factors and how they interact.
The BoM has been developing POAMA for more than a decade and Dr Watkins says meteorologists are getting closer to forecasting extreme events, such as frost or heat stress, a fortnight or even a month or two in advance.
"We are starting to get a better handle on the likelihood of extremes over those sorts of periods. We are a long way from getting that genuine long-range frost and heat forecast, but the small steps are beginning."
Achieving better forecasts is what farmers most want, and the Managing Climate Variability (MCV) program through the Grains Research and Development Organisation is involved in improving forecasts and translating into variables that are more relevant to farmers, including dairy.
The Managing Climate Variability (MCV) program manager Dr Beverly Henry says statistical systems, while still having a role, are becoming less reliable because climate change has made recent years a poor indicator of future weather patterns.
Climate agencies around the world are now moving to dynamical models that are based on the physics of actual processes occurring in the ocean, the atmosphere and over land surfaces (rather than historical). Dr Henry says the switch to dynamical models, aided by advanced supercomputers, is the latest in improved weather-forecasting technologies.
Dr Henry says longer-term forecasting will always be a challenge, given the element of chaos in weather systems, but nonetheless, technological advances now allow the MCV program to provide farmers with intelligence that is reliable enough to help with climate risk management.
The small steps in research should soon include forecasts of how much of a region's average monthly rain could fall in the next fortnight, and over how many days.
Managing the Winter Season Ahead
Greg O'Brien, DEPI Ellinbank
With the seasonal outlook for rainfall for the next three months showing average to slightly wetter, based on the summary of global models, it is necessary to plan what actions are needed on farm over winter this happens. With a late start to autumn in most districts and lower than average autumn rainfall for most of the state (with exception in the north east), many farmers have fed more supplements in response to lower pasture growth reducing their feed reserves heading into winter and spring. So the main task in managing the winter ahead is to develop a relevant strategy in preparation for next spring.
Cow condition at calving has a big impact on both milk production for the season ahead and reproduction. When in a tough situation, it can be difficult finding the cash to feed as you would like. Looking at it from the profitability angle of the business, there is a short term gain from underfeeding (less purchased feed costs) but a longer term loss (less milk income and poorer reproductive performance).
A feed plan and income estimation can be used to help work out a strategy for the winter ahead. In a worst case scenario, it might be better to reduce the herd size. Generally speaking though, feeds can be purchased cost-effectively. The biggest issue is the greatly reduced margin over feed costs that make payment of other costs more challenging. So feeding decisions will be more important than usual on many farms this winter.
Home grown feed
We all know that home grown feed is generally much cheaper than purchased feed and how important grazing management is for determining pasture growth throughout the season. Somehow the imperative to give cows a decent feed today gets in the way of what is best over the length of winter. Although there may be pressure to graze early or more frequently, keep in mind the need for good August pasture growth and try not to over-graze pastures during June and July; focus on building up pasture cover.
Sacrificing areas and using supplements, while the soils are relatively dry, enables the pasture to get more length on it, which in turn allows the pasture to grow faster. Over-grazing the sacrifice area will result in much slower growth for this area for the majority of winter, particularly if there are high rainfall events, so it is important to keep the area sacrificed as small as practical.
However, a key issue can be mastitis from the build-up of mud and dung in the sacrifice area if it is too small. Using paddocks that don't grow much feed or that are lower in fertility can reduce this impact, and there may also be benefits from the nutrients in dung and urine for future performance.
Boosting pasture growth with nitrogen is generally a cost effective option for providing additional feed. At around $700 per tonne of urea delivered and spread, five kilograms of extra growth per kilogram of nitrogen makes the feed price $300 per tonne. This response should readily be achieved during winter on a dairy pasture. On a well-managed ryegrass pasture, the response is likely to be about 50 percent higher, making the feed price about $200 per tonne. In building a wedge, apply nitrogen to paddocks that are not going to be grazed for three weeks or more. If more feed is required, repeat the application of fertiliser following grazing.
Feed purchasing strategies
While whole grain and grain product have only increased steadily in price in recent months, hay and straw fodder is becoming harder to source and has therefore become more expensive very quickly in comparison. This has happened to the point that hay and straw may work out considerably dearer per unit of energy in comparison. The cost will increase further when you take into account wastage of between 10 - 20 percent, and even more if feeding on water logged paddocks over winter.
A strategy for the winter ahead could be to carry out a feed plan calculating the relative merit of purchasing hay versus grain and grain products and the combinations of both. Also given the potential scarcity of hay further down the track, it would pay to factor into your feed planning the minimum amount of fodder you need to use every day, to make the most of the value of the hay you may already have on hand.
To help you rank the cost effectiveness of the various feeds that you may be able to source in addition to those you have on hand, you will need to know their Metabolizible Energy (ME value - usually expressed as mg/kgDM) and the Crude Protein (usually expressed as a percentage) content. Other feeds such as Palm Kernel Extract (PKE) and almond hulls (whole and milled forms) which are lower in protein and a good source of fibre and ME are currently in reasonable supply and at a cost that is attractive to consider as part of your feed plan. Talk to a nutritionist about working out the cost effectiveness of various feeds, particularly if they are ones which you are not familiar with.
Traps to be avoided
If feeding high levels of grain, you may need some support from someone with good nutrition skills to help ensure your herd's diet is balanced. A cow's diet should have an NDF fibre content of 30 percent or more. It is also important not to feed too much grain in any one feed, as this will cause a digestive upset if fibre content is adequate. An indicator that grain feeding is affecting rumen health (and also milk production), is a drop in fat test.
Some grains are digested more slowly in the rumen than others. Slower digesting grains can be fed at higher rates before rumen health and milk production is affected. Replacing cereal grain with maize grain works well (say 30 percent of the grain mix as maize). The thing here is to look at the cost-effectiveness of such a feeding level. It may be better to feed less concentrate. Of the cereal grains, oats is safest, with barley next then triticale and wheat. Maize is safer than the cereals.
In summary, given the seasonal conditions and outlook for the next few months it is likely that extra bought in feed will be required on many farms. Pasture management and nitrogen fertiliser are likely to be the cheapest options for filling the feed gap. Grain/concentrates and less usual feeds may be cheaper than hay on a unit of energy basis, but it is important to have adequate fibre in the diet.
The Winter Back Page
Climate Outlook Webinar
If you would also like a pdf copy of the presentation, please send a request to firstname.lastname@example.org
Did you Know?
that 6,000 volunteer rainfall & river height observers provide measurements to the BOM, as an invaluable contribution to Australia's climate record; known as "Rain Obs".
Curious to view Rain Obs on the demo website?
Then go to reg.bom.gov.au/general/reg/obs
Login with user name bomg0039 and password RainObs1
And have a good look around!
Warmer season more likely for north, south and west coasts
Outlook still for maximum temperatures is moderate over northern and eastern Australia, with minimum temperature skill moderate over most of the country
National Seasonal Temperature Outlook: probabilities for June to August 2013,
Wetter season likely for most of Australia
A wetter than normal season is more likely for large parts of northern and eastern mainland Australia
National Seasonal Rainfall Outlook: probabilities June to August 2013