Farming in a Changing Climate

It is estimated that the global population increases by 120 people every minute and as a result food production will need to double by 2050 to feed everyone. For the first time in history there are more people living in cities than in rural areas meaning there are less people involved in food production. There is also increasingly less land available for food production with more and more land being taken up for housing, dams and roads. This food production must also be done using less water which is being shared for use in the environment, industry and agriculture.

“The world is one poor harvest away from chaos”

Climate change has always been variable but it is acknowledged by most that it is becoming warmer and drier with more variability and more extreme events. Biological indicators of climate change include vineyards showing earlier vintages such as vintages becoming earlier by one and a half days in NSW while on the Mornington Peninsula vintage is occurring 40 days earlier than 40 years ago and Tahbilk Winery vintage is occurring 20 days earlier than 40 years ago. Plants are apolitical they just react to what’s going on around them which seems to indicate a warmer, more carbon dioxide rich environment.

Concerning food security, there is a need to increase yields and increase productivity. Australia’s 2010 wheat harvest was the highest in record, this coming off a long period of dry. Australia forms the food basket for Asia. Aussie farms can currently produce enough food to feed 60+ million people. However the yield which needs to grow by 1.5% per year is currently growing at less than 1% per year. Increasing demand is leading to increasing prices. Price increase has been on an upward trend since 2000 with prices expected to double by 2050.

Adapting Australian agriculture to this situation has seen producers adapting practices and technologies, changing farming systems and transforming farming practices.

Successful adaptations moving forward include; intensifying sustainable agriculture, increasing production while maintaining and looking after resources and enhancing input efficiency with respect to chemicals, water, nutrients, land, labour, pesticides

Soil health is critical. Australian soils are not made for cultivation and changes in farming practice include; minimizing soil disturbance by tillage, enhancing and maintaining organic matter cover on and in soil and diversification. Such diversification involves; variation in the rotations, sequences and associations of plants; the use of annuals and perennials, increasing the use of woody crops (e.g. mallee oil production) and the use of legumes. The matching of soils to enterprises, known as ‘on farm planning’, involves; cropping the best soils with highest production potential, grazing the next best soils and using the poorest soils for biodiversity (carbon credits) or woody crops (biofuels)

Summarized by Wendy Murphy from a talk given at the forum: What’s Up With The Weather?

St Arnaud 25/2/11 hosted by VFF & NCCMA