Farmers adjust to changing climate

14/03/2016 - 15:11

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New research by a Perth-based national innovation centre has confirmed significant rainfall and climate changes in the state’s agricultural regions for the past 15 years, and found these conditions will be the new normal.

Farmers adjust to changing climate
SHIFTING CONDITIONS: David Stephens’ new map of seasonal rainfall zones has shown a new climate is emerging in Australia. Photo: Brad Collins, GRDC Ground Cover

New research by a Perth-based national innovation centre has confirmed significant rainfall and climate changes in the state’s agricultural regions for the past 15 years, and found these conditions will be the new normal.

Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre senior research scientist David Stephens told Business News the centre had created a map based on the past decade and a half of seasonal rainfall data from 8,000 locations across Australia that showed striking changes to previous observations.

A decline in winter rain and increase in summer rain has resulted in major shifts in varying directions across different climatic areas in Australia.

Western Australia’s South West has essentially lost its Mediterranean climate (marked by warm, wet winters and hot, dry summers). In the Wheatbelt, winter rain has decreased 20 per cent and summer rain has increased 29 per cent.

Dr Stephens said the farming community had showed onsiderable interest in the new map, which for many confirmed they could not return to traditional methods and landmark dates.

He said the majority of farmers had already adjusted to changes, with many improving their water-use efficiency and weed control methods to the benefit of their bank accounts. “People that have had made lots of money,” Dr Stephens said.

WA Farmers board member Kallum Blake, who runs a 1,000-hectare mixed grain and sheep farm in Katanning, told Business News he and other farmers in the area had been adjusting to conditions that had shortened the growing season and brought forward when they sowed crops.

“We always used to use Christmas as our benchmark for when we’d like to finish harvest, but the past few years we’ve been finished well before Christmas,” Mr Blake said.

He said the changes had compelled farmers to become more efficient operators, but with harvest times being brought forward by a few weeks, it also left them vulnerable to storms at that time of year.

“You tend to get more chance of getting a thunderstorm in November and then grain damage because the grains have matured earlier,” Mr Blake said.

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