Under climate change, the scientists say we’re expecting to see more extreme and out-of-season weather events. We therefore can expect to see more of what we’ve had over the last few days – and what a few days it has been!
As farmers, here’s a glimpse of what this big rain meant to us. If you eat food, this is important to you.
Our average annual rainfall is 450mm, with 80% of that meant to fall between May and October – what we call the ‘growing season’. In the last three days we’ve had 172mm, that’s nearly 40% of the years total – and it’s February.
It’s flooded. Roads have been washed out, the local school was closed, the creeks have burst their banks, paddocks are awash, fences are down. We’re meant to be shearing next week, but some of the sheep are stuck on the opposite side of the creek and they’re all wet.
Sure, big summer rains happen occasionally. Farmers roll with the punches – that’s part of farming – but these sorts of events happening more and more frequently thanks to climate change? That’s a scary idea. And I think it’s going to hurt.
For those who like figures, it costs $4000 / km for materials and labour to build a fence, and we have around 210km of fences on this farm. Insurance won’t cover fences near creeklines against flood, and guess which ones are the first to go in a wet like this. Luckily we haven’t lost too many fences this time.
You may be thinking that rain is good for farmers. Yep, it fills up the dams and water tanks which is great. But, aside from the infrastructure damage, there’s other challenges too. Weeds, a creation of a ‘green bridge’ (when the usually dry pastures stay green over autumn) for pests and diseases, loss of pasture and challenges for livestock management.
These are things that make producing high quality food and fibre in a sustainable and economically viable way harder.
One technique we are using to adapt to climate change is perennial pasture – these are pastures that grow all year round instead of traditional species which die off in summer. Originally planted to tackle salinity, their ability to take up summer rains and grow will help us with livestock feed – but it is not a silver bullet solution, just a small help.
What we need is to tackle climate change. Steady the climate system so farmers have half a chance of keeping up, and keep feeding the world.
Western Australia is going to the polls in just a few weeks – get onto your candidates and let them know that climate change is a priority issue.
It’s real and its happening now.