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Climate change presents a range of challenges for animal agriculture in Australia. Livestock production will be affected by changes in temperature and water availability through impacts on pasture and forage crop quantity and quality, feed-grain production and price, and disease and pest distributions. This paper provides an overview of these impacts and the broader effects on landscape functionality, with a focus on recent research on effects of increasing temperature, changing rainfall patterns, and increased climate variability on animal health, growth, and reproduction, including through heat stress, and potential adaptation strategies. The rate of adoption of adaptation strategies by livestock producers will depend on perceptions of the uncertainty in projected climate and regional-scale impacts and associated risk. However, management changes adopted by farmers in parts of Australia during recent extended drought and associated heatwaves, trends consistent with long-term predicted climate patterns, provide some insights into the capacity for practical adaptation strategies.
Animal production systems will also be significantly affected by climate change policy and national targets to address greenhouse gas emissions, since livestock are estimated to contribute ∼10% of Australia’s total emissions and 8–11% of global emissions, with additional farm emissions associated with activities such as feed production. More than two-thirds of emissions are attributed to ruminant animals. This paper discusses the challenges and opportunities facing livestock industries in Australia in adapting to and mitigating climate change. It examines the research needed to better define practical options to reduce the emissions intensity of livestock products, enhance adaptation opportunities, and support the continued contribution of animal agriculture to Australia’s economy, environment, and regional communities.
Adaptation to and mitigation of climate change in Australian agriculture has included research at the plant, animal, and soil level; the farming system level; and the community and landscape level. This paper focuses on the farming systems level at which many of the impacts of a changing climate will be felt. This is also the level where much of the activity relating to adaptation and mitigation can usefully be analysed and at which existing adaptive capacity provides a critical platform for further efforts. In this paper, we use a framework of nested hierarchies introduced by J. Passioura four decades ago to highlight the need for research, development and extension (RDE) on climate change at the farming systems level to build on more fundamental soil, plant, and animal sciences and to link into higher themes of rural sociology and landscape science. The many questions asked by those managing farming systems can be categorised under four broad headings: (1) climate projections at a local scale, (2) impacts of climate projections on existing farming systems, (3) adaptation options, and (4) risks and opportunities from policies to reduce emissions. These questions are used as a framework to identify emerging issues for RDE in Australian farming systems, including the complex balance in on-farm strategies between adapting to climate change and reducing greenhouse gas concentrations.
Climate is recognised as one of the defining features of different farming systems in Australia. It follows that if the climate changes, farming systems will have to shift, adapt, or be transformed into a different land use. Given that Australian farming systems have been adaptive in the past, we address the question of the extent to which research on adaptation to climate change in farming systems is different or additional to research on farming systems in a variable climate.
Australia’s future landscapes will be shaped by global climatic, economic, and cultural drivers. Landscapes evolve. They are manifestations of the complex negotiations between nature and cultures, over millennia. In the Anthropocene, humans are the dominant evolutionary force reshaping the biosphere.
Landscape management involves all human activities and interventions that change the forms and functions of landscapes. It also involves the ways we learn about, and understand the world, and our place in it. Responses to climate change are driving changes in natural resources policy, research and management. Building capability for large-scale, adaptive management is critical in an era of global change. By rigorously examining and learning from recent experience—bioregional conservation planning, natural resource management (NRM), landcare, and water reform—Australia can build capacity for integrated and adaptive resource management.
Climate change compounds existing stressors on ecosystems. It adds complexity and presents new challenges for integrated assessment, planning, and management of natural resources. Given the dynamic nature of the ecosystems, static conservation paradigms and stationary hydrology models are increasingly redundant. In the face of inherent complexity and uncertainty, ‘predict and control’ strategies are likely to be less useful. Adaptive approaches are called for, due to the complex relationships and non-linear feedbacks between social, ecological, and climatic systems. Australia should invest in building professional and community capacity. Australia’s scientific and professional capacity in natural resources provides useful foundations, but substantially increased investment is called for. Research should be focused on guiding and influencing management at large scales and on avoiding undesirable thresholds or tipping points in complex ecological systems.
Cultural and governance aspects are emphasised as central to effective adaptation strategies, because landscape management is an intergenerational, societal challenge that requires participatory, adaptive learning approaches.
Agriculture is highly dependent on the social sustainability inherent in rural communities. Yet too often we focus on the economic and environmental drivers relating to agricultural production, ignoring the social and community aspects that make rural livelihood not only possible but also rewarding and nurturing. In this paper I focus on climate change as yet another factor associated with rural restructuring that defrays community wellbeing. I argue that attention to social factors and a stronger role for government in assisting communities will enable greater adaptation and enhance resilience in what are essentially very uncertain times.
Climate change presents the need and opportunity for what the Stern report called ‘major, non-marginal change’. Such transformational adaptation is rapidly emerging as a serious topic in agriculture. This paper provides an overview of the topic as it applies to agriculture, focusing on the Australian situation. It does so by first defining transformational adaptation, distinguishing it from other more incremental but overlapping modes of climate change adaptation and positing its emergence in agriculture as a response to both drivers and opportunities. The multiple dimensions of transformational adaptation are highlighted before two types or cases are focussed upon in order to tease out issues and highlight two major examples of transformation in agriculture in the past. Four key issues about climate change adaptation in agriculture particularly pertinent for transformational adaptation are then reviewed: the identification, level, distribution and management of the costs of adaptation; the definition, potential for and need to avoid maladaptation; the capacity demands that this level of adaptation presents; and the role of government in adaptation. Overall, transformational adaptation poses potential great gains but also great risks. It reinforces the realisation that agricultural research can no longer remain insulated from off-farm, non-science or non-agricultural knowledge or processes. Support and guidance of transformational adaptation requires that we understand how Australian agriculture is currently, and could be, positioned within the landscape, rural communities, and broader social, political and cultural environment.
Climate change in Australia is expected to influence crop growing conditions through direct increases in elevated carbon dioxide (CO2) and average temperature, and through increases in the variability of climate, with potential to increase the occurrence of abiotic stresses such as heat, drought, waterlogging, and salinity. Associated effects of climate change and higher CO2 concentrations include impacts on the water-use efficiency of dryland and irrigated crop production, and potential effects on biosecurity, production, and quality of product via impacts on endemic and introduced pests and diseases, and tolerance to these challenges. Direct adaptation to these changes can occur through changes in crop, farm, and value-chain management and via economically driven, geographic shifts where different production systems operate. Within specific crops, a longer term adaptation is the breeding of new varieties that have an improved performance in ‘future’ growing conditions compared with existing varieties.
In crops, breeding is an appropriate adaptation response where it complements management changes, or when the required management changes are too expensive or impractical. Breeding requires the assessment of genetic diversity for adaptation, and the selection and recombining of genetic resources into new varieties for production systems for projected future climate and atmospheric conditions. As in the past, an essential priority entering into a ‘climate-changed’ era will be breeding for resistance or tolerance to the effects of existing and new pests and diseases. Hence, research on the potential incidence and intensity of biotic stresses, and the opportunities for breeding solutions, is essential to prioritise investment, as the consequences could be catastrophic. The values of breeding activities to adapt to the five major abiotic effects of climate change (heat, drought, waterlogging, salinity, and elevated CO2) are more difficult to rank, and vary with species and production area, with impacts on both yield and quality of product. Although there is a high likelihood of future increases in atmospheric CO2 concentrations and temperatures across Australia, there is uncertainty about the direction and magnitude of rainfall change, particularly in the northern farming regions. Consequently, the clearest opportunities for ‘in-situ’ genetic gains for abiotic stresses are in developing better adaptation to higher temperatures (e.g. control of phenological stage durations, and tolerance to stress) and, for C3 species, in exploiting the (relatively small) fertilisation effects of elevated CO2. For most cultivated plant species, it remains to be demonstrated how much genetic variation exists for these traits and what value can be delivered via commercial varieties. Biotechnology-based breeding technologies (marker-assisted breeding and genetic modification) will be essential to accelerate genetic gain, but their application requires additional investment in the understanding, genetic characterisation, and phenotyping of complex adaptive traits for climate-change conditions.
Organic carbon and nitrogen found in soils are subject to a range of biological processes capable of generating or consuming greenhouse gases (CO2, N2O and CH4). In response to the strong impact that agricultural management can have on the amount of organic carbon and nitrogen stored in soil and their rates of biological cycling, soils have the potential to reduce or enhance concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Concern also exists over the potential positive feedback that a changing climate may have on rates of greenhouse gas emission from soil. Climate projections for most of the agricultural regions of Australia suggest a warmer and drier future with greater extremes relative to current climate. Since emissions of greenhouse gases from soil derive from biological processes that are sensitive to soil temperature and water content, climate change may impact significantly on future emissions. In this paper, the potential effects of climate change and options for adaptation and mitigations will be considered, followed by an assessment of future research requirements. The paper concludes by suggesting that the diversity of climate, soil types, and agricultural practices in place across Australia will make it difficult to define generic scenarios for greenhouse gas emissions. Development of a robust modelling capability will be required to construct regional and national emission assessments and to define the potential outcomes of on-farm management decisions and policy decisions. This model development will require comprehensive field datasets to calibrate the models and validate model outputs. Additionally, improved spatial layers of model input variables collected on a regular basis will be required to optimise accounting at regional to national scales.
Governments, organisations and individuals have recognised the need to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. To identify where savings can be made, and to monitor progress in reducing emissions, we need methodologies to quantify GHG emissions and sequestration. Through the Australian Government’s Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) landholders may generate credits for reducing emissions and/or sequestering carbon (C).
National GHG inventories for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and accounting under the Kyoto Protocol use a sectoral approach. For example, fuel use in agriculture is reported in the transport component of the energy sector; energy use in producing herbicide and fertiliser is included in the manufacturing section of the energy sector; sequestration in farm forestry is reported in the land use, land-use change and forestry sector, while emissions reported in the agriculture sector include methane (CH4) from ruminant livestock, nitrous oxide (N2O) from soils, and non-carbon dioxide (CO2) GHG from stubble and savannah burning. In contrast, project-level accounting for CFI includes land-use change, forestry and agricultural sector emissions, and significant direct inputs such as diesel and electricity. A C footprint calculation uses a life cycle approach, including all the emissions associated with an organisation, activity or product. The C footprint of a food product includes the upstream emissions from manufacturing fertiliser and other inputs, fuel use in farming operations, transport, processing and packaging, distribution to consumers, electricity use in refrigeration and food preparation, and waste disposal.
Methods used to estimate emissions range from simple empirical emissions factors, to complex process-based models. Methods developed for inventory and emissions trading must balance the need for sufficient accuracy to give confidence to the market, with practical aspects such as ease and expense of data collection. Requirements for frequent on-ground monitoring and third party verification of soil C or livestock CH4 estimates, for example, may incur costs that would negate the financial benefit of credits earned, and could also generate additional GHG emissions.
Research is required to develop practical on-farm measures of CH4 and N2O, and methods to quantify C in environmental plantings, agricultural soils and rangeland ecosystems, to improve models for estimation and prediction of GHG emissions, and enable baseline assessment. There is a need for whole-farm level estimation tools that accommodate regional and management differences in emissions and sequestration to support landholders in managing net emissions from their farming enterprises. These on-farm ‘bottom-up’ accounting tools must align with the ‘top-down’ national account. To facilitate assessment of C footprints for food and fibre products, Australia also needs a comprehensive life cycle inventory database.
This paper reviews current methods and approaches used for quantifying GHG emissions for the land-based sectors in the context of emissions reporting, emissions trading and C footprinting, and proposes possible improvements. We emphasise that cost-effective yet credible GHG estimation methods are needed to encourage participation in voluntary offset schemes such as the CFI, and thereby achieve maximum mitigation in the land-based sector.
Australia’s primary industries are likely to be uniquely impacted upon by climate change. In February 2011 the inaugural Climate Change Research Strategy for Primary Industries (CCRSPI) conference was held to discuss the current state of climate change research across Australia’s primary industries. Never before had policy makers, producers and scientists from all sectors of our primary industries been brought together in one event to focus on the challenges and opportunities of climate change. This conference was a unique forum to address those challenges and opportunities by sharing knowledge across the various sectors, scientific disciplines and the industry-policy-science divide.
While this collection of review papers provides an excellent knowledge base for industry and government to plan and implement policy and make further research investments to address the obvious gaps there is still much to be done in terms of research and the co-ordination of research. The often unrelated research activity in the adaptation and mitigation components of climate change research have the potential to have either synergistic or antagonistic outcomes at several scales and in several sectors ranging from policy to industry and community. The significant injection of research and development funds into this area through the Carbon Farming Futures and other associated programs will provide further impetus to the need for national co-ordination of climate change research in Australia’s Primary Industries.
To build on all this knowledge and experience gained at the 2011 CCRSPI Conference, CCRSPI is currently (2012) finalising the national climate change research strategy for the sector, with an associated audit of existing projects and capacity, in order to encourage and advocate the cross-sectoral RDE needs and co-ordination for the future.