FARMVIEW Season 2 Episode 2
Episode 2 - Climate scenarios for Victorian horticulture
Climate Change Specialist, DEPI Victoria
What farmers have been noticing for the past decade is things are being getting warmer and we have got really strong warming trends right across Victoria and across Australia and each decade since the 50's has been warmer. So the sign is really strong for that warming trend to continue and we are expecting the next decade to be even warmer still and the one after that warmer than that. So I guess agriculture is really dealing with a continuing trend of conditions getting harder and there is a really great desire and hope that weather would just get back to normal and I can perfectly understand this.
I guess one of the key things is that whether you believe climate change or not, we're saying to farmers, because your industry is so reliant on the weather and what the climate does, it is a time to be really alert and not to have fixed views on this, but just to make sure you are tapping in to good information as this journey unfolds. And certainly even if you don't know all about the signs, if you just look at the existing trends of warming, a bookmaker has shown that data and if asked "what do you think about the next decade?" he would say the race favourite is for the next decade to be warmer.
This is not just a blip, we certainly know our temperature regimes now is much higher than it had been in any previous droughts, in the world war two drought and the great federation drought. What is happening now is quite different, it is consistently hotter. We certainly know some of the drivers of those previous big droughts are different and we know here that certainly for Southern Australia and for Victoria in particular, the issue of warmer trends means our catchments are running off less water, even when we get the same rainfall, but also we have got things like the storm tracks of our cold fronts and the strength of our high pressure systems in a warmer world, those high pressure systems are getting stronger. So it sort of means this is a different variability that we are moving into and it is good to hope we might still have the odd wet year and some good inflows thrown in there, but we have had that in the last decade. We have had some fairly big individual events of rainfall and some good individual inflows, but they do not make up for an overriding pattern, which is for warmer and dryer that is here to stay.
A warmer climate also means that with changes the nature of how the plants and crops respond in terms of they are the ones spending all the time out. In the field they are dealing with the peaks and extremes of temperature, so that is certainly an issue and can in effect, you know water use of plants and also we are looking at issues to do with extreme events. A warmer atmosphere has more energy, so potentially it can produce more extreme weather events.
Horticulture businesses dealing with a whole range of issues to stay viable and certainly there is, some very positive markets and there is a lot of international competition. There is issues with labour and what we are seeing now is climate is actually entering the field. It is not just having to deal with climate variability, but we have now got a continuing warmer trend that producers have to contend with.
So when we are looking at solutions for dealing with the warmer climate and dryer conditions it has to be considered in the context of all those other issues that horticulture growers are dealing with, but certainly when we looking at solutions we know growers have done some amazing work in the past decade at dealing with the warmer and dryer situation and looking at water efficiency and looking at root stocks and varieties, but there is also a lot of things that growers have been doing about how they manage their efficiency of their operations and also how they manage their business and the business structure and spreading risk across different climate zones or on scale. They are all really important elements to maintain viability as the climate changes.
In demand for food there is a bright future, but it is certainly not going to be without plenty of challenges and when we look at all of the things that growers can do to deal with the warmer climate, there are often a lot of smaller changes, incremental changes that can happen and there are thins like varieties or harvesting times or season times, but some of the decisions get bigger in terms of how do you deal with these things. We can make short steps and short changes over time, but sometimes we need to make bigger decisions which are larger decisions which is about the scale of the operation, whether we should spread our risk across different climate zones or different border infrastructure systems, or whether we look at leasing or exiting.
I guess there is certainly a lot of those pathways, I have always been here in agriculture. We are saying those drivers of change, if anything, accelerating over the coming decade.
We have seen an amazing response of the growers in the last decade. I mean if you were thinking back about the changes that Victorian growers have had to go through, you could not have predicted what has unfolded. So the response by growers has been pretty amazing. So it shows what we can do when we put our mind to it and I guess there is a lot of those key learning's are there in the last decade too about, how it is about how we manage all of those risks in a business and certainly growers know that it is not just dealing with the climate issue, but it is also to deal in full with the other marketing and labour and costs supply issues as well. It is how they are combined or affect our growers.
So I guess it has never been a more important time to be really accurate if you looking at your business and understanding what you need for the next decade. Farmers have been really crying out for some more simpler information that is easier to understand on this whole climate story and that in the DPI has been pretty active at providing some new climate risk news letters and we have got that on a DPI climate risk website and also the hort-industry network website has got some fantastic work, which is really trying to pull at the parts of this story that are relevant for hort-growers and we are doing that in each industry as well. So there is good information there and often those newsletters have good up-to-date stuff about how the season is unfolding, what is some of the latest news about what is affecting our weather patterns and also what are some of the great tools that are there to deal with it, because there is a lot of good stuff those farmers know sitting on the web, but no one has got the time to find it. These are the places to go to help fast track where the tools are.
If you want to know more about this programme, contact your industry grower association or the DEPI customer service line - 136 186.