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.