Science Week – how science helps farmers deal with drought

The effects of drought have been made more bearable for Australian farmers through revolutionary developments in science and technology.

According to GrainGrowers chief executive officer David McKeon, the ways we farm today are unrecognisable from farming just decades ago.

“Science and technological innovation are delivering for farmers, regional communities, the Australian economy and every Australian.”

Drought and grains

The grain industry have seen improvements in many areas of farming practices including weed control, plant genetics, weather forecasting, machinery and telecommunications.

Advanced weed control provides more targeted herbicides and greater research and knowledge on resistance management and chemical spraying techniques.

Improved plant genetics have allowed farmers to plant grain varieties which are drought tolerant and early maturing, so the crop is ready for harvest earlier in the year before the weather gets drier.

Research in conservation farming also assists in combating the effects of drought through no-till or minimum tillage to preserve the moisture in the soil and prevent soil erosion.

Female scientist studying plant growth
Advancements in agricultural science had made droughts more tolerable

Improved scientific understanding of weather patterns and the availability of sophisticated weather stations and soil probes help farmers to accurately monitor the macro climate of their farms and prepare for adverse weather events.

Data specific to their farms and regions are delivered instantly to farmers’ mobile phones or computers via satellite, enabling farmers to make well-informed decisions for their farming businesses.

Drought and livestock

The livestock industry have also implemented practices based on research and scientific studies to keeping animals healthy and productive, particularly during times of drought.

An example is an animal’s nutritional score which provides an estimate of the cattle’s fat reserves. In order to sustain animals through drought, farmers can use the nutrition score to decide how to handle their stock, such as using supplementary feed or selling stock.

Research and science are also essential in maintaining the high quality of welfare Australian animals experience. The CSIRO are conducting a research to measure how farm animals ‘feel’ to reduce stress in animals and improve their well-being and productivity.

RuralCo and Meat & Livestock Australia are investigating the future of drones within the livestock industry, calling them ‘the new cattle dogs’.

RuralCo procurement manager Leonie Furze said drones are already helping many farmers check watering points, fence lines and livestock.

These are just some of the many ways that farmers are using science to manage drought more effectively. Continual improvements in cutting edge science may not be able to make it rain, but they are certainly reducing the impact of drought.


Andrea Martinello

Andrea Martinello

Andrea is the Community & Engagement Officer at the National Farmers' Federation.

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