Climate adaptation put to test

30 Dec, 2016 01:00 PM
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Strathalbyn dairyfarmer Ty Maidment has had practical experience with farming in different climates.
All systems do require good business management skills on the farm.
Strathalbyn dairyfarmer Ty Maidment has had practical experience with farming in different climates.

THE ability of dairyfarmers to adapt to a changing environment has been put to the test in a three-year project.

A Fleurieu Peninsula, South Australia, farm, along with a farm in Gippsland, Vic, and a third in Tas, were used as the basis for the Dairy Business for Future Climates study, which looked at potential changes needed to farm in 2040.

DairySA's regional natural resource management officer Monique White, Murray Bridge, SA, said the project involved farmer working groups in each region considering their options to cope with a changing climate, with these ideas then tested against international climate models for the time period.

"Using the models we looked at how the pastures might change, then asked the farmer groups what they would change in their business," she said.

The SA group, which was made up of central dairyfarmers, used a real example on the Fleurieu to come up with three potential solutions: intensifying through the use of a total mixed ration, adapting with a partial mixed ration, or simplifying by reducing herd numbers.

The climate models indicated the farm could expect an increase in temperature by one degree Celsius and the average rainfall to drop by 12 per cent, with longer dry spells between rain events.

The models also suggested longer summers with March and November maximum temperatures similar to those associated with February and December.

Ms White said she hoped the project would provide a direction for the industry, but the economic results showed there was not one standout system.

"There was no one-size-fits-all solution," she said.

"But the breadth of expertise across the different systems does provide a resilience in the industry."

Ms White said the project highlighted the need for continued upskilling of farmers.

"All systems do require good business management skills on the farm, with people who can interpret change and adapt accordingly."

Ms White said the farmer group was selected to get a range of experiences across the central region, as well as those younger farmers who had a long future in the industry ahead of them.

She said SA farmers had some advantages as the climate there was already so variable and required adaptive skills.

The project also found milk price was a key factor in profitability, and Ms White said the the vast number of processors in SA - more than 40 - would also be a benefit.

Strathalbyn, SA, dairyfarmer Ty Maidment found his participation in research project particularly relevant as he negotiated his own changing climates.

Mr Maidment took on the role of chair of the SA working group at a time when he moved between jobs, from working on a Mount Compass dairy farm to sharefarming at Strathalbyn.

"I'd moved from a grass-based high input irrigation system to a dryland system on about half the rainfall," he said.

With this experience, he was able to put some of the changes from the project into practice.

He said some of the project recommendations, such as the installation of fans and sprinklers in the dairy, increased shade and summer crops were introduced on the farm.

This included the introduction of dryland lucerne, which he said could be a big investment but had proven itself already.

"I don't think anyone was too surprised at the (project) findings but it reiterated that simple, practical thinking on-farm can bring big gains," he said.

Mr Maidment said he considered himself something of a climate change sceptic, but he recognised there were extreme weather patterns emerging, including long, hotter summers and cold, wetter winters, which would need to be considered in management.

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Elizabeth Anderson

Elizabeth Anderson

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