By Anika Molesworth
Please, whatever you feel, don’t let it be sympathy for me.
In response to the recent interest to the video I posted of a dust-storm sweeping across my family’s farm whilst I was out doing an evening water-run, I thought I should make something clear. Watch the video. Understand what is currently occurring in far western New South Wales. Let emotions swell – but please don’t let those emotions be of sympathy for me.
I am truly blessed to working in the agricultural sector. There is not a day that goes by that I would rather be doing anything else. It is without doubt, one of the most vibrant, dynamic, meaningful industries that I can think of.
I wake up in the morning to the chattering of guinea fowl outside my bedroom window and corellas perched in swaying gumtrees. My horses whinny for me to feed them before I have my own breakfast, and by mid-morning I’m usually bumping along a track with my mum to go check the fences or clean out a sheep trough. During the heat of the day I am indoors at my computer writing up my PhD thesis – on how to recycle and revalue agricultural by-products to improve soil fertility and capture nutrients within local farming systems. In the afternoons I often have teleconferences, where I connect with people around the country – my university supervisors at the Centre for Regional and Rural Futures, the Farmers for Climate Action group, or the incredible Youth Voices Leadership Team. These conversations are focused on harnessing the energy that lives in this sector, how to share the enthusiasm that people in agriculture feel for their homes, crops and livestock, and how to ensure vibrancy and resiliency for all rural and regional Australia. At sunset I walk our dogs down to the dam, where they run, bark and splash in the evening light. We often take binoculars to the water’s edge to check out the birdlife – these last few weeks we’ve spotted white-faced herons, rainbow bee-eaters and black-fronted dotterels. Kangaroos nonchalantly hop down for a drink amongst the evening’s goings-on, and swallows skim the water’s surface for insects as the sun dips below the horizon.
Rural Australia is a place you can easily fall in love with.
She is beautiful and calming. She is also extremely fragile.
My love for this place is why when I see her in pain, I feel that pain. I feel incredibly frustrated that I cannot do more to help her. I experience the drought, heatwaves and dust-storms with her and I see the toll it takes on the place I call home.
I become angry. I become so angry that we’ve known for over 5 decades that certain actions lead to certain impacts – and yet we have allowed these actions to continue.
Despite the science unequivocally telling us that humans are driving changes in our climate systems – that this alters temperatures on land and in oceans, that this disrupts rainfall patterns and exacerbates extreme weather events – we have continued in a national “she’ll be right” manner.
I am angry that some of the people in Australian politics – who have the capacity to push for the changes needed at a national scale – instead promote coal-fired power stations and show a deep-seated reluctance to acknowledge that carbon emissions must be curtailed.
I am one of the many people in Australian agriculture who is angry and disappointed by the woeful inaction on climate change and blatant disregard for the science.
There is an outcry from the farming community across Australia that ‘business as usual’ is no longer an option. That words and no action give us no relief, and what we need are ambitious climate and energy strategies to be put in place urgently.
I don’t want sympathy. I want you to get as angry as I am.
Angry at the situation and motivated to see it change.
Angry enough to stand-up, speak-out and demand that climate inaction will not continue on our watch.
Because combating our greatest challenges requires all of us to contribute unique skills and knowledge to the solutions, and together, using determined minds and hearts, the best available science and conversation, we can change this.
By Anika Molesworth
This fifth, biennial State of the Climate report draws on the latest monitoring, science and projection information to describe variability and changes in Australia’s climate. The observations and climate modelling paint a consistent picture with numerous other reports and recent data – of ongoing, long term climate change interacting with underlying natural variability.
This latest document, compiled by CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, sits alongside recent scientific warnings presented in the IPCC Special Report, UN 2018 Emissions Gap Report, the National GHG inventory, the Climate Change Performance Index and many others – which say, in a nutshell, things aren’t looking great and we’re a long way off from meeting Australia’s climate commitments “in a canter”.
Perhaps it’s the two-weeks of +40oC temperatures I’ve experienced this summer which have me feeling a little hot under the collar about all this.
I’ve had an attack of heatstroke, stressed over the stress I can see on our livestock, dragged away collapsed animals from dams and troughs, carried buckets of water to our trees growing around our shearing shed in the desperate attempt to keep them going, watched media headlines of a million fish dying of toxic algae blooms in our closest river, swept out our house of red sand after another dust-storm… and what’s the current weather report telling me? Over forties and no rain on the horizon.
Climate change affects all aspects of Australian life – but hits rural Australia and the agricultural sector pretty hard. This is due to changes associated with increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, like heatwaves, bushfire and drought. Across the Murray-Darling Basin, stream flows have declined by 41% since the mid-1990s. That has huge implications for the availability and cost of water for farmers and the proper ecological functioning of these precious life-giving systems.
I get that “the only solution is rain” (Canberra’s broken-record stuck on repeat) but to follow on by saying "and we have no control over that" is factually incorrect. We are unequivocally changing the planets climate system. This is what the science has been telling us for the last 50 years!
I would honestly feel a little more comfortable about this hot and sticky situation, knowing that we were understanding the magnitude of what is being presented in the science, heed the urgency for action required, learn from the current devastation of drought sweeping the country, and put in place ambitious climate and energy policies.
Not tomorrow. Not after the next ecological disaster or mass fish die-off. But right now!
We know that a healthy environment and a healthy climate is essential for everything this is supported by it – our communities, our businesses, and for the protection of those places we love and call home.
Australia needs to plan for and adapt to climate change. We need to reduce the unspeakably harmful pollution we are pumping into our skies like it’s an open sewer, and refuse new coal mines from being built. Many of the solutions already exist and are ready to be implemented – but we need strong political leadership on this issue. Politicians who claim to represent rural Australia must push for policies that actually ensure the resilience and sustainability of our regions in the face of climate change.
By Anika Molesworth
The images of dust storms across Far West NSW have spurred me to write this article.
If you’ve ever stood before an approaching dust storm, you will know what I mean when I describe it as a formidable dark beast crawling along the landscape. Bellowing a low grumble as it makes its way across vast stretches within minutes, unfolding to the heavens and engulfing everything in its way.
It’s a sight we out west have seen numerous times during this drought. A powerful reminder of one’s insignificance in the face of Mother Nature – and simultaneously our impact upon her.
But dust storms are not new to this region. Broken Hill township was established in 1883, and by the early 1900s overgrazing and mining operations had denuded the landscape. Sand drifts and dust storms threated the town, and rags were regularly jammed under doorways and along window seals to prevent red dust creeping into one’s house.
Images of this time period remind us of how bad it got. And how, in the face of such adversity, locals banded together to fight for their future.
Led by Albert and Margaret Morris and William MacGillivray, the Barrier Field Naturalists club was established and one of the earliest known ecological regeneration projects in the world began. The vision for a set of regeneration reserves started in the early 1920s, and by 1936 the first had been established. The benefits of the reserves in reducing dust became clear to the townspeople, and the scheme was soon being championed by locals and community groups.
More than 80 years since the first reserve was established the benefits of the regeneration reserves to wildlife, vegetation and the town are still clear.
Take a stroll through the natural green belt that wraps around the Silver City, and see the striking red flashes of Sturt Desert Pea and the bedeared dragons lounging on Ruby Saltbush.
But despite a harsh exterior, we are reminded that this landscape is incredibly fragile. The recent dust storms highlight just how vulnerable these special places are if we do not look after our common home.
In a region that is projected to become hotter, drier and experience more frequent and intense droughts and dust storms, what does the future hold for towns like Broken Hill in semi-arid inland Australia?
Our future rests in our hands.
Just like the courageous people who defiantly changed the trajectory before, so again the outback people stand with their home and fight for its future.
Whether it’s to save the Darling River, the Menindee Lake system, endangered wildlife or farming families, the power and might of dust storms rolling across the landscape remind me of the groundswell happening in these rural communities.
Outback people have resilience and fight imprinted in their DNA.
Our climate and environment are changing rapidly and we will not sit quietly and accept inaction.
Hear the rumble, cause we’re fighting for our future.
By Anika Molesworth
In failing to act on human-induced climate change, our political leaders are neglecting the rights of the next generation.
You just need to turn on your television to know this drought is tough. Every evening, Australian families are being bombarded with footage of struggling farmers, dust-bowl paddocks and hungry animals.
The bad news is that the extreme weather events plaguing Australian agriculture are about to get worse.
This drought is not an anomaly. It’s not a once-in-one hundred year event. It’s inextricably linked to human-induced climate change. We’ve known for more than 50 years that the carbon dioxide produced by burning fossil fuels is destabilising the climate system.
Right now, that’s set to continue with the IPCC Fifth Assessment report warning that ‘continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.’
Despite all of this evidence, our political leaders have continued to campaign for new coal mines. They have failed to develop a clear and ambitious strategy to transition to renewable energy. Even now, in the depths of the worst drought of our generation, no political leaders are openly discussing what is needed to arrest climate change impacts.
This failure to act in regards to human-induced climate change is fundamentally an issue of intergenerational justice. Our leaders have been aware of the hard-scientific evidence of climate change for decades, yet they have failed to act. In so doing, the benefits of present generations have been put ahead of the rights of the next.
As a young person with the dream of taking on the family sheep property, I am being unfairly disadvantaged by this failure to take action. My family’s sheep farm in far west New South Wales is projected to become hotter and drier, with more frequent and intense dust storms due to human-induced climate change.
High temperatures can stress our livestock, reduce fertility, increase mortality and adversely affect pasture and fodder crops. In the near future (2020–2039), this region could expect maximum temperature increases of 1oC. In the longer term (2060–2079), this could rise to 2.7oC. The viability of our farming operation – and my future as the custodian of this property – is precarious.
The hurdles facing the next generation of food and fibre producers are great. There’s no denying it. The combined challenges of feeding a growing number of people on the planet, with reduced environmental footprint, on a backdrop of social pressures and climate change, will ask more of these farmers than ever before. Building the support structures now in policy and institutions that are forward-thinking, ambitious and embrace intergenerational equity is essential.
As a young farmer, I am calling on our government to do more to prevent harmful climate change impacts. The failure to protect the future of young farmers by slow or inadequate action violates their rights to life, liberty and property enjoyed by previous generations. The idleness in setting in place policies and structures to reduce pollution emissions exacerbates the risk and intensity of droughts, pest-outbreaks and floods – threatening those setting out on a career in agriculture.
Climate change is impacting me personally. My future is being re-written. Extreme high summer temperatures will make my working conditions less safe, it will reduce the profitability of my farm through diminished livestock capacity, and this will have flow-on effect to the vitality of my rural community. Our government is accountable for taking action to fight climate change. The alleged danger of drought has been sufficiently demonstrated – we see that on the faces of the farmers pushed to the edge on the nightly news – and there is direct link connecting CO2emissions to the danger of drought. Ignoring these facts is putting people’s futures at risk.
Farmers are people who generally have their eyes on the horizon, from planning the next growing season to ensuring a strong working farm for their kids in their succession plan. As landmanagers we know we have responsibilities to the next generation so we also must be part of the story in reducing greenhouse gases arising from agriculture and taking care of the places we call home. And as a wider society, we have certain obligations to the welfare of future generations.
This obligation to future generations must guide the strategies that we adopt to address issues like climate change, to minimise damage caused by changes already set in place, and ensure that young people receive the tools and resources to help them adapt. Many of the solutions already exist, from renewable energy technologies that reduce pollution, to education programs on best-practices in a changed climate – what we need urgently is now the political will to change our current trajectory in the magnitude necessary for the better. Climate justice means implementing measures that effectively protect young citizens from the foreseeable impacts of climate change – and that means taking ambitious action today.
By Anika Molesworth
I have an uneasy queasy feeling. The kind one gets after being on rough waters too long. A dull nausea feeling in my gut and a lump in my throat. I am feeling a sense of agitation, yet I stopped drinking coffee months ago. Each day images of drought affected Australia fill my newsfeed. Emaciated livestock, barren paddocks and stoic farmers breaking down on camera. As I write this, a dust storm is howling outside and I’ve brought the dog indoors so he isn’t coughing on the desiccated topsoil whipping through my yard.
I’ve just finished an interview with breakfast radio, and have another interview after lunch. Everyone seems to have discovered the drought this week. A “hot topic” that will once again blow away when the attention span wavers. Interview questions come from the same handbook – with an unoriginal sentence structure incorporating ‘debate’ and ‘belief’ on ‘climate change’. The unambitious NEG also raising its head.
Its salt in the wound for farmers in the middle of the drought. Like having a terminally ill family member, then being asked if you ‘believe’ the best available science on its cause, and perhaps we should ‘debate’ the illness itself. In the meantime, why don’t we offer a ‘remedy’ that won’t do much at all. Doesn’t that sound good?
Sometimes I feel it’s easier to tune-out than tune-in. To turn off the newsfeed and stop answering the journalist’s calls. The answer to the question “are you concerned about your farming future” is yes. The answer to the question “are you worried about the increased frequency and intensity of droughts projected” is yes. And the more I think about these things the more the queasy feeling grows.
But I won’t tune-out when the newsfeed grows more raw. And I won’t tune-out when the “hot topic” of the week changes and the images of drought dry up as quickly as our dams.
There is too much at stake.
Farmers around the country demand that climate change is addressed with urgent and ambitious action. Business as usual is no longer an option.
Ending Australia’s reliance on fossil fuels is the easiest and most economically sensible way to reduce pollution.
I ask that each person who is as heartbroken by the images of drought affected Australia as I am, to tune-in, step-up and speak loudly that now is the time to put in place the strategies to reduce emissions in line with what the experts recommend.
Our future depends upon it.
My family’s sheep station is located in the Far West of NSW – a bioregion that is naturally hot and dry. However, this region is set to become hotter and drier, and will experience more frequent and intense dust storms that darken and choke the sky. The crippling droughts that we are getting to know all too well, will have even greater consequence for the next generation of food producers. As someone who dreams of taking on the family farm one day, climate change is a sobering subject for me.
I saw a desiccated desert lizard a few weekends ago. Open ground temperatures out here are reaching 75oC in summer. Specialised arid flora and fauna that have evolved over millennia are struggling to keep pace with the changes occurring now. My family graze an African breed of sheep and harvest rangeland goats – these are some of the hardiest and most drought-tolerant livestock species you will find anywhere – but even for them, extreme high temperatures are dropping birth rates and we now nearly completely destock over the hottest months to ease pressure on this fragile land.
As someone (well) under the age of 41 - I have never experienced a year of global average temperatures – and already we are seeing the effects of the soaring heat evaporating dams faster than before, stressing livestock and wildlife, inhibiting seed germination which in turn reduces ground cover and increases erosion risk. This past summer was 2.1oC above average max temperature.
Rainfall is dropping and becoming increasingly unreliable. Since my family purchased our farm 18 years ago – 13 of those years have been below average rainfall. Our farming strategy is centred on saving and wisely managing this scarce resource. Rainfall effectiveness has been reduced due these changing precipitation patterns and higher evaporation rates. I miss seeing the bright red flashes of Sturt Desert Peas covering the Barrier Ranges in the springtime – it’s been too dry for a long time, and I hope they’re not gone for good.
The emphasis of agricultural research and development to date has been on making the best use of good soils and good climates and little attention has been given to marginal farming environments. This uneven spread of effort has resulted in a dearth of information on the less favoured arid and semi-arid areas. A combination of lack of interest, low research commitment, and the complexities of the problem has resulted in a shortage of solutions offered by new-knowledge and technology that need to be applied to improve agricultural sustainability and resiliency in these regions.These places are the most fragile, and I refused to believe that these areas are any less important than more fertile lands.
I am encouraged by the Agriculture Minister and Nationals MP David Littleproud stating climate change is a “real issue we need to address” and the PM’s effort to visit drought effected communities on his ‘listening and learning’ tour. However, for farmers in the dry regions of Australia, whose climate resilience capacity is being stretched to the limit, acceptance is not as useful as action. We need the Government to take decisive and urgent steps to tackle Australia’s rising emissions and to drive the shift to clean energy, both locally and globally.
by Anika Molesworth
Around half the world is under 30 and nine in ten of these young people live in developing countries.
Some are calling it Peak Youth – never before have there been so many young people in this world.
Due to this, their voices are going to be heard, and their actions are going to be felt. Their presence in global to local issues will be known. Why do I think this? Because the young generation are now more educated, tech-savvy and connected than ever before. And they care about their future.
This is why youth coalitions are growing and hashtags like #YouthVoices18 matter.
Young people restless for change are striving for fair, just and ecologically-sustainable development.
The youth today are going to face challenges like never felt before in history.
Climate change, forced migration and ecological degradation to name a few.
When natural environments cease to function as they should, and communities fracture and disperse, young people are caught in the wave of consequences from past actions and inactions.
But the youth also play an important role in overcoming these challenges.
Youth voices are particularly powerful.
Their smart-phone megaphones and global cyber-networks mean ideas and information are shared instantaneously. They see the injustices, they hear of the biological-plundering, and they are motivated to speak up, knuckle down and swipe-left on the status-quo.
For instance, young people in many parts of the world are calling on their governments to do more to prevent harmful climate change impacts. They say the failure to protect their future by slow or inadequate action violates the rights of young people to life, liberty and property enjoyed by previous generations. The idleness to set in place policies and structures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions exacerbates the risk and intensity of droughts, bushfires and floods – severely impacting those setting out on a career in agriculture.
Young people pursuing farming have no small task on their hands. Striving for high quality produce and global food security whilst reducing our environmental footprint is one of the most significant challenges of our time. Many experts predict that by 2050, population demands from nearly 10 billion people will require a 60% increase in global food production or a significant change to the global distribution, storage, consumption and access to food. Education and empowerment of young people in agriculture is critical.
When planning a brighter future, we need to be guided by young people, drawing upon their energy, creativity and skills for positive change. There are so many exciting young people working in genetics, soil science, irrigation engineering, carbon capture research, etc. - powering ahead in research, technology development and sharing their stories. Our leaders must not only acknowledge their interest, but seek the input of the youth, to implement measures that effectively protect young citizens from the foreseeable impacts of the ‘mega-challenges’ like climate change, and provide the platforms for young people to rewrite the narrative.
Young people in agriculture are taking a seat at the solutions dining table.
Their restless desire to change the trajectory should serve us all food for thought.
As the people who will be most greatly impacted by climate change, social upheaval and ecological unravelling, they need to be armed with the skills and knowledge to face these head-on, and they need to be part of developing the global redesign.
When given the capacity, support and trust – these restless young people push the boundaries and become a force for ambitious positive change.
By Anika Molesworth
There’s a dust storm blowing in. The horizon is becoming hazy. It’s an eerie dark rust colour – a colour most farmers are familiar with as the corroding tin sheet on the back shed. A sheet that is part of so many pieces, yet an integral fragment of the whole structural stability of the shed. When the rust eats away too much, the structural integrity is undermined.
The projections tell me that these dust storms that blanket my home in far western NSW are to become more frequent, and more fierce.
But there’s another storm brewing. A chorus of farmers and landmangers who are demanding greater action be taken on climate change. They are the people staring into the dusty winds, feeling the grit in their eyes and the sand in their clenched teeth.
As different parts of the country this week are gripped by drought, exhausted by heatwaves and washed clean by floodwaters – it is clear to myself, and many of us working in the farming sector, that the time to choose our common future, is now.
Farmers for Climate Action is an alliance of farmers and leaders in agriculture who are working with its peers, the wider sector and decision-makers to make sure Australia takes the actions necessary to adapt to climate change and cut emissions where possible.
It is listening to the parts of the country where cattle outnumber people 2,000 to 1. It is listening to the people who have sun spots, sweaty brows and dirt under their fingernails. It is providing a voice to those who care about their farm’s old River Red Gums as though they were family members. It is giving the platform to farmers who have promised to look after the land and all the life that inhabits it.
Groups like Farmers for Climate Action give us all hope – it is a great example of how grassroots movements can change the world for the better.
Farmers for Climate Action is running workshops to build the capacity of farmers – so they are resilient in the face of climate change. It has formed working groups on RD&E and for policy progress. It is bringing scientists to woolsheds and farmers to Parliament House.
Stated on the Farmers for Climate Action website:
“As farmers, we are on the frontline of climate change in Australia. Rising temperatures, less rainfall and more extreme weather are already harming our land and risking our livelihoods.
Damage to our climate has forced us to adapt the way we farm, but science tells us worse is on the way if the world doesn't act. Aussie farmers are rightly proud of feeding and clothing millions of people around the world. Australia needs to address climate change so we can keep farming well into the future.
That’s why we are collectively calling for stronger action to reduce carbon pollution from all levels of government, and in our sector.
By working with people in many fields – from researchers to industry bodies to government – we will have the best information and support available to make well-informed business and land management decisions. This includes responding to the unavoidable changes already set in place, and making every effort to limit further damage to our climate.
Australian farmers can be part of the solution. Renewable energy, like solar and wind power, can help rural and regional Australia not just survive, but thrive. So, let’s grasp the opportunities!”
And it’s true - the solutions are out there!
Improved genetics in livestock are reducing methane emissions. Tree plantings are sequestering carbon. Improved irrigation efficiencies are keeping more water in the rivers and protecting fragile ecosystems. Biogas digesters are turning effluent into green power. Advances in weather forecasting are helping Aussie farmers plan ahead. Just to name a few!
If you haven’t already, I urge you to show your support by signing up to this most important organisation, and join the chorus of people demanding stronger climate action – www.farmersforclimateaction.org.au
By Anika Molesworth
I am the daughter of two people who love the land. Over the course many years they have held the land as if a delicate ornament – fragile, beautiful, and unique. A one off gift to bestow their children. A place that will nurture them as they nurture it. A landscape that will produce food. A backdrop for family milestones. A panorama with endless horizons where one can breath deeply and feel peaceful.
Yet, I am troubled.
I am troubled by the challenges that come with this gift.
As the weatherman tells me from the TV screen that daytime temperatures will not dip below 40 degrees this week, I feel the crease of anxiety furrow my forehead. The sky outside is azure blue. A colour so beautiful to the eyes, yet troubling for the soul.
The heat is oppressive. And the knowledge that this part of the world – my little spot – will become even hotter and drier worries me deeply.
I am a future farmer. But this land that I cherish will bring many challenges. The intoxicating heat on the other side of my window juxtaposed with food sitting cool inside my fridge offers up an enigmatic and perplexing scenario. A confusion met with deafening silence on these issues that ripple across the world.
One of my favorite writers popped up in my inbox this week. His concern is palpable, and one I share for our common future.
“The trouble begins where everything begins: with soil. The UN’s famous projection that, at current rates of soil loss, the world has 60 years of harvests left, appears to be supported by a new set of figures. Partly as a result of soil degradation, yields are already declining on 20% of the world’s croplands.
Now consider water loss. In places such as the North China Plain, the central United States, California and north-western India – among the world’s critical growing regions – levels of the groundwater used to irrigate crops are already reaching crisis point. Water in the Upper Ganges aquifer, for example, is being withdrawn at 50 times its recharge rate. But, to keep pace with food demand, farmers in South Asia expect to use between 80 and 200% more water by 2050. Where will it come from?
The next constraint is temperature. One study suggests that, all else being equal, with each degree Celsius of warming the global yield of rice drops by 3%, wheat by 6% and maize by 7%. This could be optimistic. Research published in the journal Agricultural & Environmental Letters finds that 4°C of warming in the US Corn Belt could reduce maize yields by between 84 and 100%.
The reason is that high temperatures at night disrupt the pollination process. But this describes just one component of the likely pollination crisis. Insectageddon, caused by the global deployment of scarcely-tested pesticides, will account for the rest. Already, in some parts of the world, workers are now pollinating plants by hand. But that’s viable only for the most expensive crops.
Then there are the structural factors. Because they tend to use more labour, grow a wider range of crops and work the land more carefully, small farmers, as a rule, grow more food per hectare than large ones. In the poorer regions of the world, people with less than 5 hectares own 30% of the farmland but produce 70% of the food. Since 2000, an area of fertile ground roughly twice the size of the United Kingdom has been seized by land grabbers and consolidated into large farms, generally growing crops for export rather than the food needed by the poor.
While these multiple disasters unfold on land, the seas are being sieved of everything but plastic. Despite a massive increase in effort (bigger boats, bigger engines, more gear), the worldwide fish catch is declining by roughly 1% a year, as populations collapse. The global land grab is mirrored by a global seagrab: small fishers are displaced by big corporations, exporting fish to those who need it less but pay more. Around 3 billion people depend to a large extent on fish and shellfish protein. Where will it come from?
All this would be hard enough. But as people’s incomes increase, their diet tends to shift from plant protein to animal protein. World meat production has quadrupled in 50 years, but global average consumption is still only half that of the UK – where we eat roughly our bodyweight in meat every year – and just over a third of the US level. Because of the way we eat, the UK’s farmland footprint (the land required to meet our demand) is 2.4 times the size of its agricultural area. If everyone aspires to this diet, how do we accommodate it? …
When I say this keeps me up at night, I mean it. I am plagued by visions of starving people seeking to escape from grey wastes, being beaten back by armed police. I see the last rich ecosystems snuffed out, the last of the global megafauna – lions, elephants, whales and tuna – vanishing. And when I wake, I cannot assure myself that it was just a nightmare.
Other people have different dreams: the fantasy of a feeding frenzy that need never end, the fairytale of reconciling continued economic growth with a living world. If humankind spirals into societal collapse, these dreams will be the cause.”
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 11th December 2017
The dirt track I head down to become a food producer of the future is littered by rocks and obstacles. So I must keep my footing and my eyes keen. I am woefully underprepared to meet these challenges. Despite foraging for new knowledge, skills and ideas each and every day – I do not feel properly equipped. Yet, these are the hands, head and heart that will be growing food, fighting for the land, and roaring these issues into the hot summer winds.
By Anika Molesworth
In the farming game – life is a bit of balancing act.
Sipping a glass of cabernet sauvignon may seem a simple enough act, but getting fine wine into your evening glass takes a few steps. Grape vines are carefully tended to over the summer months. Weeding, watering, trimming, fertilizing, checking for mildew and insect pests can be time consuming and use precious resources. As the grapes ripen, the farmer monitors sugar levels, acidity, grape colour and flavours. The window of time when the grape chemistry is right for picking is narrow. As temperature alters the grapes sugar levels, chances are your glass of red was picked in the middle of the night when cooler temperatures are kinder on the fermentation process.
Many kilometers from Australia’s wine growing regions are livestock farmers who also keep a close eye on the weather channel. Rainfall not only fills the dams which thirsty stock depend on, but also ensure a green covering of vegetation on which the stock can graze. When the weather is cold or hot, livestock rely on a stress-free environment with adequate shelter. When the conditions are just right, livestock can then be moved between paddocks, mustered, marked in yards, and trucked off for sale.
Whether it’s a dryland crop, a tasty wine drop, or a future lamb-chop – farmers take part in this game of balance in order to produce nutritious and sustainable food and fibre.
However, the rules of the game are changing. Seasonal weather patterns that farmers have long depended upon are becoming more variable, and with that comes uncertainty. The seasonality of rain and temperature which dictate the germination of seeds, the wheat’s growth, and the cattle’s feed availability are changing. This also brings changes to the hatching of insects, the flow of rivers, and the transport of stock and goods (a dirt road turned to mud or an extended heatwave can put the brakes on truck movements).
Unlike paying car rego, final exams or AFL grand final – farming deadlines are not definitive dates. Instead, food and fibre producers rely on patterns. So if these patterns are changing the rules of farming, then we need to be best prepared, and that means pulling out all stops and finding new players, new equipment and new skills. And I think Aussie farmers are up for the task.
In Australia, farmers make up less than 1% of the population, yet we provide 93% of food consumed here. Yes, we have a lot of land, but we are also the driest inhabited continent on earth, 20% of the country is classified as desert. Our ability to feed ourselves, and feed ourselves well, is only possible through continual betterment of farming systems that grow more, efficiently use nutrients and water, improve food quality, and diversify our businesses.
Aussie farmers are doing remarkable things to improve their practices and reduce their footprint on the environment. Our livestock have greater survival rates and are producing less methane. Soil sensors are providing real-time data that we can immediately respond to, and drones are gathering aerial imagery of crop health, helping us to water better and control weeds more accurately. And this is happening out in the paddocks today!
We are also seeing farms and rural communities embracing renewable energy and helping our nation transition away from fossil fuels. From Barcaldine to Broken Hill, Coober Pedy to Karratha, around the country clean energy projects are popping up. Australia is the sunniest and one of the windiest continents on Earth – there is huge potential for solar and wind energy to be running our businesses and providing farmers with a secondary and stable source of income. Farmers have long fed and clothed the world – now it is time we help power it as well.
As an industry, we have built a powerful foundation of wisdom and awe-inspiring technology. Engine improvements in agricultural machinery mean we have more power and use less fuel. The cotton we grow in Australian uses 90% less chemical than it did only a decade ago. We are using drones, satellites, robotics and genetics to improve production efficiencies. We are better educated, networked and connected than ever before. We should be proud of the quality and quantity of food and fibre we are able to grow here – and these advancements are only set to continue.
We know the challenges that climate change presents farmers – not only in Australia, but around the world – are changing the rules of production and land management. If we can’t rely on patterns, we need to equip ourselves with research, investment and engagement at all levels – in order to be adaptable and make sure that the players on the field have the right skills, knowledge and support structures in place.
My vision is a future where farms have long range weather forecasts and advanced telecommunications so they can make well informed decisions. They are powered by renewable energy, supported by our communities and where no produce is wasted unnecessarily. And we can achieve this as the advancements we see in Australian agriculture in sensors, automation, engineering and genetics are incredibly impressive. And as we come to realise the urgency for this change, we will see a surge of inventiveness that will create solutions that are languishing in their infancy, or even yet to be dreamed of.
So this National Agricultural Day, let’s celebrate Australian agriculture, and cheer on the players who are adapting to change, seizing new opportunities and producing our food, fibre and energy that we can all be proud of.