Growth is risky business

Hard questions: Lorraine Gordon, Director Strategic Projects and Program Director at RAA believes we need to answer the difficult questions around farming in a changing climate.
Hard questions: Lorraine Gordon, Director Strategic Projects and Program Director at RAA believes we need to answer the difficult questions around farming in a changing climate.

This is sponsored content for Regenerative Agriculture Alliance.

How can we be expected to produce more in the face of degraded soil and climate change?

This question was on my mind during the 'Farming in a Risky Climate Conference' on June 26 in Brisbane, and I would like to congratulate the Australian Farm Institute on delivering this factual and timely event.

The Hon David Littleproud MP, recently-appointed Minister for water resources, drought, rural finance, made the statement in his opening speech, that we need to "ensure we go from a $60 Billion industry to a $100 Billion industry," referring to exporting our rural produce.

I believe this creates a real conundrum for Australian farmers and the landscapes of which they are the caretakers.

The question I propose is how do we continue to extract this sort of return from "the land" when we have depleting and degraded soil profiles and less water resources coupled with the reality of climate change?

How do we mitigate against drought and flood events which by all accounts scientists are telling us will continue into the future.

I think it is time to perhaps take a breath, and reflect on the continuous focus on economic growth at all costs.

One of the many impressive speakers at the conference was Dr Peter Hayman who is the Principal Scientist in climate applications at the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI).

As program leader of the climate applications science program area, he works with industry stakeholders in dryland and irrigated industries to identify key climate risks and then form appropriate research and development partnerships to address the issue.

Hayman provides a two-way flow of information between climate scientists from the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO and agriculture in South Australia.

Based on data acquired from CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), Climate Council and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) "this is a mature science".

In other words, the temperature is rising due to our interactions, be it fossil fuels and human influence, and by 2020 we will be some between 1.5 per cent and 2 per cent warmer.

This means worldwide, it will be between 2 degrees Celsius and 4.5 degrees Celsius warmer, which will make it wetter in the tropics and drier down south.

So, we now have 97 per cent of our climate experts agreeing humans are causing global warming.

Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARES) are highlighting that profits have decreased by 70 per cent overall from 1950 to 2000.

Much of this due to poor policy around drought which slows both innovation and adaption.

CSIRO's Dr Zvi Hochman, who is the Senior Principal Research Scientist and a research team leader for integrated agricultural systems, made the comment that since 1990 crop yields have become "stagnant", 47kg per ha per year less - a 27 per cent decline.

The solution is to mitigate by decreasing our greenhouse emissions by the use of red marine microalgae being fed to cattle, dual-purpose crops, focusing on genetics, the environment and our management such as preventing soil organic matter run down and depletion.

According to Hochman, "What we are seeing are farmers, advisors and scientists working harder just to stay in the same place!"

The trends are what we should be concerned with rather than the term drought.

Yet we have government telling us to produce more. Shouldn't this conversation shift from producing more to increasing value-adding with a focus on premium products?

So if we focus on mitigating these issues, should we not be looking at incentives to increase soil carbon and decrease our greenhouse emissions - the carrot approach rather than the big stick approach.

Food for thought!

Lorraine Gordon is Southern Cross University's Director of Strategic Projects and the Program Director at the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance as well as the Farm Co-operatives and Collaboration Program. She is also Associate Director at SCU's Centre for Organics Research.

This is sponsored content for Regenerative Agriculture Alliance.

This story Growth is risky business first appeared on The Land.