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Beyond the Bale : Apr - May 08
10 CLIMATE MANAGEMENT BEYONDTHE BALE A climate tool for your pocl<et A new pocket guide that helps growers assess the climate risk challenges they face is an essential item, says South Australian producer Susan Carn By Genevieve Barlow F arming in Australia in the first decade of the 21 st century is proving a challenge, but the suite of tools that help farmers manage for drought and flood is growing. South Australian wool and grain producers Susan and Ben Carn are making the most of these tools. They farm 8000 hectares, running 4000 to 5000 sheep, in a low-rainfall area at orn, north of Goyder's Line (of rainfall reliability) - the demarcation established in 1865 above which anything other than grazing wool sheep was considered too risky. But the Carns are not averse to risk. In bumper years, they can harvest 1.4 tonnes of wheat a hectare. Conversely, bad years can be horrible, but after 25 years in the game the Carns have learnt to build these into their budgets too. "If we know there's a risk of lower than average rainfall we can moderate our exposure to losses by sowing less crop or spraying less;' Susan says. She makes the most of climate risk management information and skills and belongs to the Hawker Bestprac group, an AWl-supported collective of her region's farmers who share knowledge and set benchmarks for profitability and environmental sustainability. One of its key climate-risk tools is a pocket guide, small enough to fit in a ute glove box. It was produced by Land, Water and Wool- a $20 million, AWl-supported national program that aims to boost the sustainability and profitability of woolgrowers. South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARD I) senior researcher Melissa Rebbeck produced the guide for Land, Water and WooL A stunt double who rides fast motorbikes, horses and jet skis, climbs sheer cliff faces and leaps out of planes, farm-raised Melissa knows all about risk. But, like farming in a variable climate, the risk in stunt work can be managed through improved knowledge and practice, she believes. "My father was a sheep, crop and lucerne farmer at Keith, and I spent lots of time with him on the farm in the era when there wasn't a lot of farming or climate-risk research available;' Melissa says. "He struggled along doing his own thing, he would seek out information, but it was not in an available format for him to pick up and use. "Then when I went to university, Landcare began and climate research and extension began to emerge (the information era). I've always had a passion for getting information out to farmers, so about 10 years ago we set up the Climate Applications Unit at SARDI. "We deliver climate risk management information in many different ways to farmers, through websites, books, newsletters, media and workshops. When I started there was just me. Now there are nine of us. "We do research in different areas - cropping, viticulture and horticulture - but when we apply for funding we include the cost of delivering that information to where it's useful, to the farmers." Throughout 2005 and 2006, with $80,000 from the Land, Water and Wool program, Melissa developed some easy-to-use tools for South Australian farmers to assess and act on the climate risks they face year to year. Susan and Ben Carn farm 8000 hectares north of Goyder's Line at Quorn, SA. PHOTO: SALLY LENNON, COURTESY LAND,WATER & WOOL One of those tools, the pocket guide called Climate Risk Seasonal Outlook: a Guide for Low Rainfall Area U00l Producers - which, in SA, is less than 300 millimetres annually - is a 'must-have' item in Susan Carn's opinion. "We use it to follow the Southern Oscillation Index (501) and to work out the chances of having a good season;' Susan says. (The 501 is calculated from the monthly or seasonal changes in the air pressure difference between Tahiti and Darwin. A falling 501 suggests dryness and a rising 501 suggests wetness.) "It also tells you when it's useful to follow the 501 and when it's not. The earliest the 501 begins to kick in and influence weather patterns in our district is about April or May. The first list in the booklet tells you whether it's rising or falling and then whether you have increased risk of dry weather from July to August. "If there's an increased risk of wetter conditions we might choose to sow a bit more, and if the outlook is not good we won't sow some paddocks. This year, using the booklet, we made a decision not to sow as much, whereas last year we sowed and that was like throwing $50,000 away." Melissa Rebbeck says farmers have used the guide to make decisions about joining lambs, spraying, sowing and stock reductions. "In the central third of SA there are 250 wool producers who make 80 per cent of their profit from the best three years in 10. Just two years in 10 following the 501 might be useful, so if we identify those years, the farmers have a better chance." A second tool that Melissa and her team at SARD I developed was software that woolgrowers in 300mm-plus annual rainfall country can use to maximise cost efficiencies. Subsequent workshops demonstrated the 'Climate Drafting Gate' to about 70 per cent of woolgrowers in these rainfall zones in SA. "Farmers can click on a decision they have to make, such as lambing and shearing times, and the software directs them to the appropriate tools to use for making climate forecasts;' Melissa says. "They might need to follow the 501 or the EI Niño Southern Oscillation, otherwise known as ENSO." (ENSO is the variation in normal sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, which can bring droughts or floods to eastern Australia.) Also a climate columnist for a SA farming newspaper, Melissa says that getting climate science out to farmers in ways they can understand is vital for their futures. "The more knowledge they have about climate, the less risk there is when making seasonal adjustment decisions, such as increasing crop area or stocking rates or inputs. Some people call climate variability a risk. It is also an opportunity." 0 More information: www.landwaterwool.gov.au SARDI researcher Melissa Rebbeck.
Feb - Mar 08
Jun - Jul 08 Supplement