From tropical fruit growers in far northern Queensland, to arid zone sheep graziers in inland Australia – farmers across the country have shared their views on how climate change is impacting their regions and industries.
Each farmer has a unique perspective, as they spend long days working outside on their properties paying close attention to the rain, wind and sun. The papaya grower may have noticed an increase in the prevalence of disease, while the livestock grazier is observing changes in vegetation that the livestock feed upon. These changes impact the way the farm is run now, and can threaten its future viability.
The farmer climate survey, completed by 1338 farmers, was run by Farmers for Climate Action and sponsored by Beam Energy, Flex and Enphase Solar Storage System. We called on people living and working on the land – at the coal face of a changing climate – to share their stories in order to better understand what is changing within agriculture, how it is changing between sectors and regions, and what farmers are doing about it or want done about it. Farmers from all states and territories and from industries as diverse as cropping, livestock, dairy and horticulture took part.
Some of the key findings include nine in 10 of the farmers surveyed being concerned about damage to the climate. They are experiencing rapid change on their land, and in regional weather patterns. Two thirds of those surveyed had observed changes in rainfall patterns during their lifetime, and almost one in two reported more frequent or intense: droughts; rain events or flooding; or heatwaves.
Looking ahead, a majority of farmers are highly or very concerned about a wide range of impacts including: more unreliable rainfall (76%), higher temperatures (74%), more frequent or intense heatwaves (68%), direct pollution from the mining of fossil fuels (68%), increased bushfire risk (57%) and price rises for input costs (53%).
For farmers, the defining challenge of our time is to improve production systems amidst the serious impacts that climate change presents.
It’s lucky that farmers are a gritty bunch – used to jumping the hurdles of farm life and always striving for a better tomorrow. The vast majority of us are already responding to climate changes – adapting to new conditions and mitigating emissions. This determination and capacity to constantly innovate is making many of their farms more profitable and sustainable. From the survey we found out that many have taken steps to cope, such as switching crop types or livestock breeds, as well as adopting measures to reduce on-farm emissions.
Farmers also recognize, however, that as well as a response from individuals we also need some wholesale changes. Agricultural industries are projected to be among the hardest hit by climate change, and that’s why farmers on the front line are calling for serious action. Eight in 10 farmers want their agricultural sector representatives to do more to advocate for stronger action on climate change, and 88% want their political representatives to do more.
They could start by looking at ways to boost renewable energy as it presents us with an opportunity to lower on-farm electricity bills and, potentially, provide farmers with a secondary and stable source of income. Farmers are very clear in saying they want it. Yet there are too many barriers to entry in making solar and wind installations affordable and accessible. They also say this is the way that Australia as a whole should be moving with eight in 10 farmers supporting a move towards 100% renewable electricity in Australia, with a further 10% unsure.
Farmers have a stake in tackling climate change not only because of the threats to agriculture but also because there are many ways in which we can play a part in solving it. Becoming more efficient, innovative and smarter in our agribusinesses will not only save the bottom line but also contribute to the bigger picture.
Farmers for Climate Action is a grassroots group of farmers spread across the country, who have come together because they are worried about what they are seeing on their own properties and in their sectors. And as the newest member of NFF it is clear that our group is serious about real and immediate transformation. We want to strengthen Australia's response to climate change and enable farmers to be part of the solution in order to protect the future of farming and our communities.
Anika Molesworth is the Australian Young Farmer of the Year and a 2015 Crawford Scholar. Her family runs a dorper sheep station near Broken Hill and she is passionate about sustainable farming practices. Anika is currently completing her PhD in international agricultural development, focusing on improving soil fertility in water constrained environments. She is a steering committee member of Farmers for Climate Action.