Weather News

Fear of drought, flood and fires leads farmers to plea for urgent action on climate change

Tim Fookes, Friday September 13, 2019 - 15:12 EST
ABC image
Farmer Robert Lee wants to see more action taken about the impact climate change is having on agriculture. - ABC

Extreme weather variabilities have farmers like Robert Lee, who has just watched more of his cattle leave for greener pastures, on edge.

The farmer from Larras Lee, in central west New South Wales, has lived through drought before, but not like this.

"The cattle I had were about to start calving, and I just haven't got enough to feed them," he said.

"I was proud of those cows that have gone this week; I bred them, and I regret I have to sell them."

Having already destocked, Mr Lee knows of other farmers destocking because there is a better opportunity for them in southern NSW and Victoria where they have had rain.

"The agents tell me how embarrassed they are with the amount of rain they've had in Victoria," Mr Lee said.

"But it's great to hear that some people have had [rain] and have got some grass to take on stock that we can't handle.

"With the way the climate is, with warmer-than-average temperatures and lower rainfall, I have to be much more nimble with how much stock I have."

Farmers for climate activism

Mr Lee is not alone in his concerns over the climate and has become a member of the lobby group, Farmers for Climate Action.

It involves people from rural Australia pushing for more action on the effects that climate change is having on agriculture.

A conference this week in Orange attracted nearly 200 people to discuss ways of lobbying for more action on the effects a warming, dryer climate is having on those who make a living on the land.

Two thirds of those at the conference were farmers who had travelled from around NSW to attend.

Among those who made the trip was John Angus, an agronomist with the CSIRO for 40 years who now farms near Cootamundra.

"It's bloody inspiring to see so many farmers concerned about what is going on," he said.

"We can make a difference [and] , it will make a big improvement.

"Due to climate change, the production of crops will become more difficult, because cropping leads to a reduction of soil carbon of two to three percent a year, and that can't be avoided."

Urgent action needed

The drought affecting much of Queensland and New South Wales has added to the concern some farmers have that not enough is being done to prevent extreme weather conditions.

While the issue of climate change can still be a tough sell for some, for those who say the science is irrefutable, there needs to be a more concerted effort to focus on doing what is possible to combat the risk of drought and floods.

"In the last five years there has been a general sway in terms of the view of climate change," said Steven Crimp, a climate applications scientist at the Australian National University.

"When farmers talk about the impact of climate change, it's particularly valuable.

"They bring in new ideas and new points of discussion on the ways of farmers that people may not have thought of before."

Impact on farming

With rising average temperatures and more variable rainfall, those on the land will bear the brunt of more frequent drought.

In the past 100 years of records, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) has found a one degree Celsius rise in temperature, leading to more extreme weather events.

"We've seen an increase in heat events and while we have seen drought events in the past, this one is severe," Lynette Bettio, a senior BOM climatologist said.

"We are seeing these record high temperatures with the drought, so that's increasing its intensity.

"Our farmers are at the forefront of dealing with this [and] are already some of the most adaptable in the world, given Australia's variable climate.

"But they need to be given the information about the climate so they can make the decisions they need to."

Getting heads around science

Harden farmer Peter Holding was among those to organise the Farmers for Climate Action conference.

"I've farmed for 40 years and the last 20, it's just been getting drier and drier," he said.

"I live in an area of southern NSW that supposedly got one drought every 10 years, but we rarely have a good year anymore; it's just not normal.

"I don't know why some people continue to put out fallacious arguments about the effect of climate change because they do enormous damage to the farming community by being wrong."

As Mr Holding looked across the room full of farmers concerned about the current situation and future, he was of the belief they could make a difference at a national and individual level.

"It gives us confidence and hope that the discussion around climate change is becoming more logical as people get their head around the science," he said.


© ABC 2019

More breaking news

Sydney Morning Herald
ABC News

Display Your Local Weather

Weather News

Massive temperature discrepancies across Australia's southern coastline

11:46 EDT

Temperature discrepancies of more than 20 degrees are being experienced along the vast extent of Australia’s southern coastline on Tuesday morning, due to two distinct weather systems.

SES fears storm preparations overlooked during COVID-19 lockdown

00:46 EDT

The SES is reminding people to not let the pandemic distract them from preparing their homes for the storm season.

Get a sneak peak into the new Weatherzone Beta website experience while we continue to build out its full functionality.
Explore new datasets, map layers, 7-day charts, 12-month trends and much more!