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‘Doomsday’ scenario for farming “only if we do nothing”

7 December 2007

“IT NEEDS to be stressed that the latest ABARE forecasts for farming in the face of climate change assume today’s technologies and production techniques will remain unchanged... of course, that’s a furphy,” National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) President David Crombie said today. “Australian farming never stands still.

“In fact, Australian farmers over the past 20 years have averaged productivity growth of 3.8% a year – at the same time leading the way as Australia’s primary industries reduced greenhouse gas emissions by a massive 40% over the past 15 years.

“With the sole exception of the IT and telecommunications sector, modern farming has earned Australia’s leading productivity growth rate.

“ABARE’s Climate Change: Impacts on Australian Agriculture supports what farmers have known for some time, and the NFF has been saying for years, climate change is a risk we need to prepare for and adapt to – only if we do nothing will the ‘doomsday’ headlines be right.

Australian Government must bolster targeted R&D spending

“Australian farming’s nation-leading productivity growth has only been achieved on the back of the adoption of new technologies and sustainable farm practices, which deliver efficiency gains that secure and maintain our internationally-competitive edge. These are entirely underpinned by a focus on research and development (R&D).

“While farmers have been investing in innovative research solutions to address climate change, developing sustainable environmental management and new agricultural technologies, in real terms, Australia’s Federal and State Government spending on R&D in the sector has stood still.

“The new Rudd Government, if it is serious about climate change adaption and mitigation, must take up the NFF’s mutual obligation drought-proofing initiative, sooner rather than later. It must invest in robust R&D programs that are relevant at the local and regional levels, where farm decisions are made, and assist farmers develop tools to adapt their farm systems to climate risk.

“These should be the new Government’s immediate priorities. As the NFF stated in our recent national television advertising campaign highlighting our plan to deal with drought in the face of climate change, a lot is riding on agriculture’s ability to meet these challenges.

What is at risk?

“Enabling Australian farming – which accounts for 20% ($30 billion) of Australian merchandise export income, underpins 1.6 million Australian jobs, manages 60% of Australia’s natural environment and provides the lion’s share of this county’s daily food needs – to keep pace with climate change, is essential.

“Australian farmers are ready to meet the challenges presented by climate change, while at the same time continuing our contribution in the national effort to reduce net greenhouse emissions.

“The challenges for agriculture have been made crystal clear in ABARE’s report. The analysis shows that without actions to adapt to a changing climate and to mitigate the effects greenhouse gases, Australian production of wheat, beef, dairy and sugar could decline by up to 10% by 2030 and 19% by 2050.

“Further, the study suggests that Australian agricultural exports, currently valued at $30 billion annually, could plummet by 63% by 2030 and 79% by 2050, if nothing is done.

“In a time of increased competition for global food supplies, it is vital that Australian farmers adapt to a changing climate to continue their proud record of productivity growth – and in doing so, avoid the potential outcomes highlighted by ABARE.

“What we need are relevant research and tools, backed by political will, to partner with the farm sector in moving forward.

Farmers already active on climate change – Government must join us

“Even today, beset by the worst drought on record, modern farmers are achieving results that were unimaginable 20 years ago. Despite our harshest drought ever, our farmers produced 9,800,000 tonnes of wheat in 2006-07 – well down on the 26 million tonnes of 2005-06. But had they been using 1980s farm techniques, they would have produced less than 3,000,000 tonnes.

“To produce almost 10 million tonnes amidst the prevailing drought tangibly illustrates how modern, innovative farm practices make our farmers the cream of the crop. Environmentally-sustainable farming is making modern farming more productive than ever before.

“Farmers adapting to changing circumstances is ‘the norm’ – the adoption of crop rotation techniques to manage soil, introducing new crop varieties to suit regional profiles, improved water reticulation systems to use markedly less water, diversification of production systems to adjust to seasonal conditions... these are just some of the things modern farming does to produce more in a changing climate.

“With the lifting of the GM moratoriums in NSW and VIC, a new wave of opportunities is also becoming available to combat the climate change threat. Increasing production volumes from low emission farm systems – where Australia leads – is in everyone’s interests – reducing total global emissions.

“We can, and need to, do more. But new and better research and development is the starting point. The new Rudd Government must join us in our vision to better drought-proof Australia and ensure an adaptable, profitable and sustainable farm sector into the future.”

[ENDS]

Media Enquiries: Brett Heffernan on (02) 6273 3855 or 0408 448 250

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