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'You can't keep arguing this is just a cycle': Farmers struggling to manage impacts of climate change

By Geoff Thompson, Tuesday October 9, 2018 - 18:27 EDT
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Peter Mailler grows wheat, chick peas and fava beans on his farm near Goondiwindi. - ABC

Peter Mailler is a third-generation farmer but if the effects of climate change continue on their current path, he doesn't expect anyone will be farming his 6,000-acre property near Goondiwindi in the future.

"You can't keep arguing that this is just a cycle," he told 7.30.

"Yes, there are dry periods and, yes, there are wetter periods, yes, there are warm periods, yes, there are cool periods, but we have shifted the averages.

"The baselines have moved to the point now where we are unable to manage the impacts of those extreme events in that set."

And with the , Mr Mailler is not sure what he will do.

"We're running out of tricks," he said.

"Agriculture is a gamble and every time temperatures rise and the impacts of climate change rolls down, the odds keep moving in favour of the house.

"My bet is that high temperatures are here to stay and that is a serious threat to how we farm and how we manage that lack of rainfall."

Farmers interested in 'science and fact and evidence'

Farmers see the effects of climate change firsthand, and many like Mr Mailler are now convinced the predictions are correct.

Even the peak body, the National Farmer's Federation (NFF), now says it's not a matter of whether climate change is real, but what to do about it.

"Farmers look at science," NFF president Fiona Simson told 7.30.

"We are very interested in science and fact and evidence and we think now there is plenty of evidence on the table that climate change is a factor that we're going to have to deal with here in Australia.

"So let's make sure that we can incorporate it into our policies in a way that we can continue to be productive and profitable, where we can continue to be sustainable."

Ms Simson runs a cattle station near Tamworth in NSW.

"We've been here for 90 years and if we look back over the 90 years, we've seen a series of droughts come and go," she said.

"Right now I think farmers certainly are looking at the climate change and work that's been done on climate change and the heating of the Earth, and they're thinking about how that will affect them on farms."

Mr Mailler believes that effect will be dramatic.

"Australia's probably more exposed to the effects of climate change than a lot of other places," he said.

"We already operate in some of the most volatile conditions in the world and climate change means those conditions are going to be more volatile and more extreme."

And he rejects the argument that Australia's emissions are too small to make a global difference.

"As an affluent first-world nation we have an obligation to show leadership in this space," he said.

"If we don't show leadership and start to be proactive, then who will?

"It's pretty simple."

Success 'in spite of the politicians'

Mr Mailler was a National Party voter until he founded his own party to run against Barnaby Joyce in last December's New England by-election.

"We're not going to get a coherent policy around drought if we don't deal with climate," he said.

"We've got no chance of getting a coherent policy around climate if we have people who won't admit there's something here that needs to be done."

Sick of waiting for leadership from Canberra, his family has come up with its own solution.

His parents have built a solar farm on their property and are selling electricity back into the grid.

"It's producing enough power for about 1,370 homes," he explained.

"That's most of the homes in Goondiwindi, which is literally just across the river."

And it is succeeding despite all the obstacles.

"There's some irony here because, in spite of the Government restriction and obstruction and everything else that's going on, this investment's making money and it's good for mitigating climate," he said.

"So it ticks all the boxes and it's happening in spite of the politicians."

He is not so upbeat about the farm.

"My farm, on the other hand, won't survive and can't be justified the way things are going at the moment," he said.

"If we can't mitigate climate then I seriously doubt that we'll be able to justify the investment in agriculture."

The only farm he is confident will make a profit is the family's solar farm.

"Absolutely," he said.

"Better money, safer money, easier money."


© ABC 2018

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