Despite the welcome rain recently, water is at the forefront of everyone’s mind, with irrigated and rain-fed farming systems in the region under stress and facing greater uncertainty.
I have studied the rainfall records from Mooroopna (they’re the most complete for the region) and noted that:
■The period from 1945 until around the 1990s/2000 was the wettest since records began in 1885, and farming methods and systems developed during this period are no longer suitable for the drying trend we are now experiencing.
■Seasonal rainfall distribution has also changed markedly in the past 25 years, with substantial reductions in autumn and winter rain.
While cropping farmers have generally adapted well to these changes, there is less clear evidence of broad adaptation in some of the livestock industries.
We must therefore work together to develop and utilise more adapted farming systems, and at Dookie we have this firmly in our sights. Diversification is the key.
Another marked example of climate change is its effects on our wine industry locally and nationally.
This was addressed by three experts at our recent dean’s lecture in Parkville — author and wine writer Max Allen, former Brown Brothers Family Wine Group chief winemaker Wendy Cameron and Yalumba chief winemaker Louisa Rose.
Their main conclusions were clear:
■Vintages had become earlier — at the rate of about one day/year over a 25-year-plus period — and are also more compressed, with most/all grapes often ready to pick at the same time.
■Vignerons have adapted to this in many ways — new varieties, new vineyards in cooler locations, mulching, canopy management, use of vine sunscreen, greater capacity and various cellar processes.
■Wine quality has not declined to date.
■The wine industry will continue to adapt but will likely eventually cease in some hotter regions.
I believe this scenario is probably indicative of some other agricultural industries in our region.
The research spotlight today is appropriately on the drought and heat tolerance studies conducted by Dorin Gupta, our lecturer in sustainable agriculture.
Dr Gupta’s research focuses on improving the sustainability and efficiency of crop production systems through optimum resource use, variety evaluation and molecular techniques for managing biotic (fungal) and abiotic (drought) stresses.
Her work on drought and heat stress tolerance and mitigation in wheat and lentil has produced some promising results.
Crop varieties differ in their individual or combined tolerance of drought and heat stress — drought tolerance doesn’t necessarily mean heat tolerance, and vice versa.
But perhaps most interestingly, Dr Gupta has found that silicon application to the soil (which could eventually be in fertiliser) can help to mitigate both drought and heat stress by altering the physiological responses of the crops.
—Professor Tim Reeves
University of Melbourne