Climate change is a big thing. How do we tackle it and prepare for it? The Small Farms and Climate Change Forum on 5 September 2020 was an opportunity to examine these issues and identify the topics that small farmers want to learn about in relation to climate change.
You can view the recording of the Forum presentations here.
Our guest speakers were Melinda Hillery, Senior Project Officer, Climate Resilience and Net Zero Emissions Branch, NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, and farmers Harry Watson from Millpost Merino and Helena Warren from Cadfor Agistment and Murray Greys.
Below is a summary of the key points discussed at the Forum and links to more resources on climate change.
Mel Hillery provided a snapshot of the projected changes to weather patterns in the near future (around 2030) and the far future (around 2070) as a result of climate change. She suggested the best way to prepare for climate change is to know (inform yourself about climate change), assess how climate change might impact us and respond by taking positive actions to prepare for climate change.
KNOW: What we know from climate research and historical observation
Climate change is happening now. We are already seeing impacts of increasing global temperatures such as changing snow seasons, bushfire, floods and droughts. There are flow-on effects to native ecosystems and impacts on farming and aquaculture. Examples include bushfire smoke taint to grapes and increasing ocean temperatures that have led to tropical species moving further south.
The areas that have warmed the most since 1970 are in Eastern Australia and the observed increase has been 0.3-0.4 degrees/decade. Further information on historical climate change in our region is available at the Bureau of Meteorology website.
Modelling for the South East and Tablelands region of NSW suggests that by 2030 the number of hot days will increase with 5-10 extra hot days above 35 degrees Celsius per year compared to 1960-1990.
Rainfall projections under climate change are more complicated. It is expected that there will be more rainfall extremes and it is projected that spring rainfall will be reduced. These changes are indicated in all of the climate models from the NSW Government.
ASSESS: What climate change means for you and your community
Mel suggests a vulnerability assessment is better for small farmers than a risk assessment.
These are the key features of a vulnerability assessment:
- Climate hazards: what are they (eg. increasing temperature, heat waves, floods, fire)?
- How sensitive are my activities and my property to these hazards?
- What is my capacity/capability to manage that?
- Where am I the most vulnerable (combine hazards, sensitivity and capacity)?
Use this to plan ahead. This is where we move from ‘business as usual' to how can we adapt to climate change.
RESPOND: Adaptation and transition to a low carbon future
The NSW Government has a target of net zero emissions by 2050.
Good news includes work being done by the Cobargo Community post fires and the Yass Area Network Climate Ready Revegetation Project. You can find out more about these projects here.
Harry Watson and Helena Warren provided us with case studies about how they are managing and adapting to climate change.
Key points from Harry:
- Have a good farm plan.
- Plant lots of trees and shrubs that can be used for multiple purposes. Tree planting has been extensive on Millpost farm, including planting oaks and deciduous trees to the north western fire sector. The trees are used for shade, stock fodder and cooling the homestead and stock yards. They also provide windbreaks from the prevailing weather systems from the north west.
- Think about how you farm. Millpost Farm have changed their sheep genetics. This means that they no longer have to mules their sheep and there is less pressure from fly strike. They are moving to shearing twice/year.
- Practice rotational grazing. Millpost Farm grazes their sheep all in one mob and allows the pasture long recovery periods. Moveable troughs allow flexibility in grazing.
- In times of drought Harry suggests you destock and/or hand feed your stock in feed lots.
- The farm has a high proportion of native grasses in some of the grazing paddocks, Harry thinks that these grasses can cope better with climate extremes.
- Kangaroos are causing grazing pressure on Millpost Farm. To look at this problem they are involved in a study with the University of Tasmania trialling the use of Maremma dogs as apex predators to see if they deter the kangaroos from the grazing paddocks.
Some useful texts:
Permaculture - Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability
Holistic Management Handbook
Water for Every Farm - Yeoman's Keyline Plan
Key points from Helena:
- Helena suggests you maintain rain-ready pastures by providing adequate nutrition for your pasture and checking your soil acidity. Keep your soil at pH 5.5 because the bacteria involved in creating soil organic carbon don’t like acid conditions. Adequate potassium reduces cold stress for plants. Ensure there is adequate soil nutrition at the end of the winter so the plants are ready to grow when the soil warms up.
- Establish tropical pastures (C4 grasses) to take advantage of summer rainfall.
- Helena is trialling planting fodder trees – Tagasaste (tree lucerne) for drought feeding.
- Helena chooses to breed cattle with light coloured coats that deal with the heat better.
- Disease burdens in the Capital Region for Blue Tongue, Akabane, Ephemeral Fever and Queensland itch are changing. How? Generally, these diseases are moving south east as the climate warms and summer has more rainfall.
Resources and further information
Further information on climate change and adaptation can be found in the links below:
NSW Government Adapting to Climate Change
Impact of climate change on biodiversity
Specific snap shots for soil erosion and biodiversity have been developed and can be viewed on the Adaptation Research Hub website.
Information on climate ready trees and revegetation
Which Plant Where?
Information on the importance of soil organic matter
More information on C3 and C4 grasses.
More information on Blue Tongue disease and its movement south.
This event was made possible with funding from the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment Increasing Resilience to Climate Change Community Grants Program.