Forum sheds light on climate change and agriculture

12 February 2016

Coorow was a melting pot of information about agricultural innovation and climate science at the recent Productive Farming Futures Forum organised by NACC.

Amangu/Badimia Yamaji and NAIDOC Elder of the Year Mr Graham Taylor 2015 welcomed the full house – more than 70 guests – who attended the event.

For honoured guest and keynote speaker, Australia’s national Advocate for Soil Heath, Major General the Honourable Michael Jeffery, the solution to maintaining productivity in the face of climate change is firmly imbedded in soil health. “Good soil management underpins a sustainable, profitable and more secure future for us all, in a world with a changing climate and more intense economic demands,” he said. ”To save the planet, save the soil”.

The forum brought together a wide range of presenters – from industry, government organisations, research institutions and local farmers – all of whom are tackling the issue of climate change from different perspectives, but with the same goal – adaptation.

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The forum was focused on seeking-out opportunities in agriculture in a changing climate, highlighting a range of different techniques that farmers in the Northern Agricultural Region are using to adapt to climate change and creating local solutions to a global issue.

Senior meteorologist at the Bureau of Meteorology, Glenn Cook kicked-off presentations with a summary of the long-term climate trends in Southwest Australia, noting that overall the region is drying and warming.

Lucy Anderton then looked at the issue from a business point of view, highlighting the risks and rewards of farm management decisions, and how investing in new technology and adoption of best practise methodologies drives growth.

So what is best practice in a changing climate? Dr Dean Revell presented the results from grazing industry farm trials, demonstrating that by using different shrub and pasture options that “cope when conditions are tough, allows you to capitalise when times are good” and shared the benefits of having “adaptable animals” that are “suited to the environment”.

2015 Soil Health Champion and local farmer, Stuart McAlpine inspired everyone with his insights into diversifying production as a means of adaptation, and methods that he was implementing or planning for transforming the Wheatbelt into the “Foodbelt”.

Dr David Bowran raised many interesting points regarding the implications of climate change on farm biosecurity – managing the “bad guys”.

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UWA Associate Professor Theo Evans then highlighted the possible benefits of insect “good guys” – in a novel approach to climate adaptation, with his research into the benefits of ants and termites on crop productivity in a drying climate. Adoption of conservation agriculture techniques including no till and stubble retention allow these important soil macrofauna to thrive, resulting in improved grain yields in his Binnu case-study.

Theo explained how the benefits observed in trial sites as a direct result of ants and termites included increased water retention and nutrient availability in the soil, resulting in an increased yield of 36 per cent!

Mango grower Neil Lantzke discussed impacts of climate change on horticulture, and how farmers are adapting this industry to changing conditions. His case study on the National Landcare Programme funded Southern Mango Growers Association Farm Demonstration project, a NACC supported project, was a great example of how industries are using innovation to maintain productivity under often harsh environmental conditions.

NACC Deputy Chair and Carbon Neutral Director Kent Broad finished the line-up of presentations, and delivered a compelling message about the benefits of biodiverse carbon plantings, opportunities available in the regional landscape, and the importance of maintaining community and culture.

The event was very timely, with a post-forum survey indicating that 72 per cent of responders had experienced impacts or losses that they attribute to climate change. Attendees took away increased knowledge about the manifestation of climate change and associated adaptation options and methods.

Overall the event was well received, with attendee Paul Findlater from DAFWA commenting that it was “the best event of this type that I have ever attended”.
NACC is supportive of seeing landholders and groups sharing their experiences and continuing to apply innovative ideas to addressing the challenges that face agriculture.

Any local farmers who have an idea for an innovative demonstration that they would like to run on their farm are urged to please go to the NACC website to download an application for Round 4 of NACC’s Farm Demonstration Grants, which provide up to $25,000 for demonstrations which are innovative and address natural resource management issues in the region. Applications close 29 February 2016.

The Productive Farming Futures Forum was supported by the Australian Government’s NRM Planning for Climate Change Fund and National Landcare Programme, Royalties for Regions, Inspiring Australia and the Mid West Science Engagement Group.

For a full rundown of the event please take a look at the impressive sequence of tweets that captured the full story of the day.

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