Graeme & Gill Nicoll - Dairy, South Gippsland, VIC
We’re having longer autumns and milder, drier winters. Then in summer there are more frequent, extended heat waves and intense storm events. It’s changed when we can grow grass. That creates issues around when we feed and how we manage our cows. To reflect this change in growing season and manage increased variability, we’ve altered when we calve our cows. We would have normally calved in the late winter or early spring. Now we’re calving in late autumn, moving our whole operating system by three months. That’s a huge change for a business of this type. It’s taken many years to plan and implement.
Richard Clark - Raspberries & Blackcurrants, Westerway, TAS
Our frost season is no longer very predictable; we haven’t been getting quite as cold winters. This year there was a mild winter and frosts came late in spring. If we have flowers on our raspberries and blackcurrants when a frost comes, it will kill them. They won’t become berries and we lose part of our yield. That has happened to us several times. Very hot days have also increased in the last 10 years. Fruit that is sitting on a bush for 10 hours in 40°C heat will start to cook. We have to irrigate to try and cool the fruit.
Charlie Maslin - Beef & Sheep, Monaro, NSW
The changes we’ve seen on our farm over the last few decades are mostly related to rainfall. The dry spells seem to last longer and have a much greater impact. Water holes have been drying up; one section of our main stream had no water for five kilometres. Conversely, rainfall seems to be more intense and erratic. Recently we had almost 30 per cent of our total year’s rain in just two hours. We have 100 years of records for our farm, and our neighbours have 160 years of records. Neither shows anything like this happening in the past.
Richard Weston - Peonies, Olive Oil, Fruit & Vegetables, Hobart, TAS
We’re getting markedly drier winters and it’s warmer every year. It’s almost as though some of the seasons are muddled. There are fewer frosts and less snowfall. I’ve tracked the frost closely since we moved here in 1993. Back in the 1990s we recorded on average 35 frosts a year. This year we had only six or seven. Frosts are so important as they really assist in pest control, particularly aphids. You’ve just got to do what you can to adapt. We’re very flexible in what we grow; diversification on all levels of the farm is how we can sustain ourselves.
Annabelle Coppin - Beef, Pilbara, WA
I’m the fifth generation here. The variable Pilbara climate dictates everything we do. We’ve got weather records from all the way through to show that. Cattle suit this semi-arid, very variable environment and there’s less risk than higher value crops. The climate is the heart of our business model. Everything else revolves around it, especially adequate rainfall. We’ll have to focus on adapting to climate change and strengthening our management systems to keep producing on this delicate rangeland environment. We need to look at flexible business models to remain robust while providing a high-quality product and improving the environment.
Graham Finlayson - Cattle, Brewarrina, NSW
We’ve owned our property for just over 20 years. Over that time the rainfall has seemed to become more erratic and variable. We’ve had some of the wettest consecutive summers the old-timers can remember, bookended by two of the worst droughts in the past 100 years. “Reliably unreliable” is how I now think about our climate. We’ve changed management endeavours to deal with it. Farmers are on the front line of climate change. Unless agriculture becomes more regenerative and less fossil-fuel dependent, and the world changes its energy sources, nothing else we do will be effective in the long term.
Kim Chalmers - Wine Grapes, Mildura, VIC
In Mildura we have a desert climate. The evenings are usually much cooler than the days. That’s important in grape growing as warm nights affect grape quality; cool nights give them a chance to hydrate and refresh. We have noticed a lot more heat waves, and when you get a heat spell with really hot nights that can impact the crop. Heat waves can also mean sunburn or direct radiant heat damaging the berries. You then need to consider the kind of canopy you grow; you need lots of leaves to shade and protect the bunches from the sun.
Liz Hirst - Tropical Fruit, Wildwood, Cape Tribulation, QLD
2010 was the wettest year we’ve had in years. We get on average four metres of rain annually; it was closer to eight metres that year. The impact on the crops was huge. Conversely, this year has been one of the driest seasons we’ve had. Normally rain starts around November; it still hadn’t arrived in late December. The land was completely dry and the stressed conditions caused some fruit to flower when it wouldn’t normally. We’ve had to plant so many different species, as you never know what you’re going to get. Seeing these extreme patterns is quite concerning.
Torres Webb - Tropical & Native Fruit, Torres Strait, QLD
Climate change is affecting our culturally important food crops and useful plants, like the coconut. Coastal erosion and sea level rise are having a big impact; a lot of trees along the coast are eroding away. We’ve also seen changes in plant flowering times. We’re mitigating the impact by using traditional cultural techniques, like planting food crops to hold soil along the coastline. We use local resources around us for mulching, like seaweed. We’re encouraging community and family members to take small practical steps - to do their own planting along their area of land rather than getting overwhelmed by it all.
Mike & Margot Black - Bananas & Watermelons, Douglas Daly, NT
The NT is known for its extremes - extremely hot, dry, humid and wet. The climatic conditions in the tropics are intense. As farmers and food producers we are fully aware of climate change and the need to keep it in mind for future generations. If we can’t produce crops to feed Australia then we are in quite a bit of trouble, aren’t we? We maintain the quality of our soils. We aim to produce more vine for watermelons and more canopy for bananas to protect the fruit from the intense heat. We use shade covers and sheds to protect the fruit.
Warren Waddell - Persimmons, Galston, NSW
My grandfather’s orchard grew stone fruit. As stone fruits are a summer fruit, they’re prone to environmental and pest related hazards prevalent at that time of year - sunburn, fruit flies, birds and fruit bats. We converted to persimmons as they’re an autumn fruit and initially summer hazards were of no concern. But now we’re seeing warmer conditions and an extension of seasonal hazards. We now have to provide the persimmon orchard with the same protection we originally provided the stone fruit. We do fruit fly eradication well into winter; rising temperatures have extended breeding times for this pest. Climate change is definitely an issue.
Greg Dennis - Dairy, Beaudesert, QLD
There’s definitely been a trend towards increased temperatures. In the last year we’ve seen higher temperatures than have ever been recorded on our property. In January we hit 45°C, which we’ve never seen before. Last November was the hottest on record. We have to offer the cows comfort and lower their core body temperature with sprinklers in the dairy. We have shade structures to protect them from the sun. I’m committed to finding a way to make the cows comfortable so we can keep producing milk here. We have four million people to feed in South-East Queensland.
Gavin Scurr - Pineapples, Wamuran, QLD
The Sunshine Coast hinterland is a really special place to me; my family has been farming here for more than 50 years. Our region’s elevation, warm frost-free winters and sandy soils are all beneficial for growing pineapples. We get enough rain for the crop without needing to irrigate, even in prolonged dry spells. Farming responsibly according to a region’s environmental conditions is important, especially with climate change predictions for hotter days and more heavy rainfall events. We all want farmers in this region to continue to provide food to Australia and the world for generations to come.
Ben Martin - Mangoes, Bowen, QLD
We have cycles up here of drought and flood. 2008 was the last big flood we had up here. We’re a few hundred metres away from the Don River so when a flood comes through we can get up to two metres of water across the land. Climate change is something that we can’t ignore. I’ve taken the farm over from my parents and I’d like to think that in another 30 years my son will take the farm over from me. You need to be looking to the future. I don’t want to lose this way of life.
Colin Seis - Wool & Grain, Gulgong, NSW
I’ve been here all my life; my great-grandfather settled here in the 1860s. I’ve certainly seen a shift in this area’s rainfall patterns towards more summer rain and less winter rain. That’s happened over the last 20 years and has started to become consistent. It’s not that total rainfall has changed so much; it’s just increasingly variable. Farmers need to have a serious look at how we do things. We need to put in place agricultural practices that are less risky. We need to understand climate change, factor in ecology and work more closely with nature.
Glenn Morris - Beef, Inverell & Grafton, NSW
During an extremely hot and dry period in 2002, I was on the front line of a catastrophic fire. I realised just how powerless we are against such extreme conditions. Global warming is reducing the productive capacity of our land, and we’re now reducing stock numbers to avoid further damage. Perhaps even more insidious and cruel are the ever-increasing dry spells. In Inverell we have not had decent, soaking rainfall since 2011. All our dams and a once permanent creek are currently dry. Many people in the district are facing their third year in a row without adequate stock feed and water.
Warwick Pickette - Sheep & Cattle, Coonabarabran, NSW
I’ve seen within my lifetime the temperature increasing and the frosts starting later. Once upon a time, our first frosts would be in mid-April. Now we sometimes don’t get them until June. The increase in temperature means the evaporation is so different now; it’s much harder to grow the longer season pasture plants. It affects how we feed our stock. We’re a summer rainfall zone here. Roughly every second year we’d get the edge of a cyclone and we’d get our dams filled. Now for about 15 years that just hasn’t happened. We used to always have water!
Bill Long - Grain & Lamb, Ardrossan, SA
We have just come through the driest spring on record. Over the last decade we’ve experienced more extreme and longer heat waves. Nearby regions have experienced some extreme frost events. Harvest is starting in our region earlier than ever before. In my lifetime of farming I’ve never seen such rapid early growth of crops due to the warmer temperatures in April and May. Fortunately we are adapting - doing things such as planting crops earlier. However, I am concerned that in the future we won’t be able to keep pace with the predicted changes in temperatures and rainfall for our region.
Ian & Di Haggerty - Grain & Sheep, Wyalkatchem, WA
Climate change has certainly affected our farm. There’s been a significant drop-off in effective rainfall during the growing season. Our average annual rainfall has dropped from around 325 to 210 millimetres over the past two decades. We’ve seen prolonged dry spells of four to six weeks, which reduce the growth of our crops and pastures. To adapt, we’re bringing planting times forward and doing everything possible to rebuild soil health and capture and hold as much rainfall in the soil. This way we increase our farm’s resilience against drought, build biodiversity and help store carbon in the landscape.
David Cook - Beef, Dandaragan, WA
I’ve been concerned for at least the last decade that we have a very serious problem on our hands. Our rainfall records go back to 1898. I’m able to compare the rainfall they were getting then to what we’re getting now. We’ve lost virtually a third of our rainfall. We’re getting less rainfall overall and shorter rainfall events. We can no longer rely on dams; they don’t get enough runoff to fill properly. Our water system has also relied on soaks. Some of these have dried up and we’ve had to put bores down and use groundwater to water our stock.
Sarah Sammon - Rose Petals, Swan Hill, VIC
Warmer weather has extended our growing period. We used to finish picking around late May. The last couple of years we’ve actually picked into July, when we normally start pruning. It’s completely bizarre to be picking in July; we are having frosts and still have roses producing. You can’t do the full winter prune until the roses have lost all their leaves and gone into hibernation. This year we didn’t finish pruning until early September. That affects our labour, because we now need to contract pruners full time over an intensive period to get everything pruned before the hot weather.