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Climate change a hot topic

The consultation team at the Murray Dairy session. Pictured are Lachlan Barnes, Lauren Jones and Daryl Poole. Photo by Daneka Hill

The term ‘flexitarian’ was a recurring theme at Murray Dairy’s latest think thank session.

The term was used to describe what farmers will have to become to adapt to climate change — such as using ‘flexitarian’ methods to keep ahead of an uncertain weather system.

The session was an opportunity for Murray Dairy to listen to farmers while the advocacy group develops its climate change adaption strategy.

Farmers told Murray Dairy they were already seeing pressure from the banks to lower their emissions and be climate change ready.

Farmers also told Murray Dairy they were hoping Dairy Australia could start developing ways for farmers to monitor emissions on their farms, giving them a starting point to prove they are lowering emissions.

“At this point, there is no point in us feeding cows seaweed if we can’t prove that it’s lowering our farm emissions,” one farmer said.

The majority of those who attended the session were older generation farmers with sons moving into the business, making them worry abut future-proofing their farms for the long term.

“All I’ve ever wanted to do is farm, all I ever wanted my son to do was farm, but when I think about my grandsons, I don’t want them to go into farming,” another farmer told Murray Dairy.

Murray Dairy’s Daryl Poole facilitated the session, which was held at the Kyabram Club on Wednesday, June 22.

“This is our first session in a series,” Mr Poole said.

“The key message is that there is always uncertainty about the future, but the evidence tells us it’ll be hotter and drier.

“We know farmers can respond to that because we’ve been doing it for the last 20 years.”

Mr Poole put several climate change models before the farmers, showing them what the experts were predicting.

“What we know with a high certainly is that it’ll get hotter,” he said.

“To a lesser extent we know it will get drier during the cool season. We’re not as sure about a rainfall change during the summer months.”

Mr Poole did offer some reassurances to the farmers, telling them even a worst-case model wasn’t predicting the average year to be anything like the severe low rainfall experienced during the millennium drought.

“Farming systems have evolved big time already. Part of that is better crops, better agronomy and better irrigation.

“We also know there will be regulatory burdens placed on us and we need to demonstrate that we are a sustainable industry.”

About 17 farmers and industry professionals attended the session.

In a worst-case scenario, irrigation water availability is expected to reduce by 30 per cent and the average price could increase to $300/Ml.

A hotter climate would increase stress on cows, but it could also allow for improved pasture and feed growth in the cooler months.

There was also concern more heatwaves and worse storms could mean more power outages and brown-outs (partial outages).

The dairy farmers expressed their concern that if the water price kept rising, it would reach a point where it made sense to sell the water and exit farming, rather than hang on.

They also said if they prioritised being water wise and keeping their cows comfortable, this would mean putting them into sheds and feeding out fodder.

There was concern the move to housed barn systems would damage dairy’s image and continue to push consumers away from dairy.

“Think about GM crops,” Mr Poole said.

“The science can prove it’s perfectly fine and useful, but if the consumer gets it in their head that it’s untrustworthy, then its very hard to sell.”

An identical session was held in Cohuna on Friday, June 24.