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As the climate changes, agriculture businesses must adapt to survive


Thanks to a changing climate, we know one thing for sure – our agriculture industry won’t look the same in 10 years’ time as it does today.

The good news is that Australians can continue to enjoy fresh, locally grown fruit and vegetables for many years to come. But this will only happen if consumers are on-side with the future-proofing strategies that farmers and their supply chains will have to adopt to survive.

In a large-scale project funded by the Australian Government, Dr Gemma Lewis from the Tasmanian School of Business and Economics teamed up with social and climate scientists from the CSIRO, as well as economists and agribusiness experts from the University of Tasmania and the University of Queensland, to investigate how the agriculture sector can make its practices more adaptive to climate change.

The researchers are also figuring out how Australian consumers can support these businesses through this transition.

“There are certain regions around the country that are no longer profitable for growing particular produce because of changes in the climate, or the prevalence of extreme events,” said Dr Lewis.

“Our research is about understanding how food value chains – all the businesses that are involved in the production, delivery, and marketing of food – can be more adaptive to the challenges, and opportunities, caused by climate change.”

Dr Lewis and her colleagues partnered with three Australian agribusinesses to explore how climate change was affecting their growth, manufacturing, transport, and marketing, and what they could do about it. 

We were interested in exploring how can these businesses can change what they do and adapt their activities so they’re in a better position to respond to, and potentially even benefit from climate change.

Dr Gemma Lewis, Tasmanian School of Business and Economics.

In the fresh produce sector, the researchers focussed on an Australian mango supply chain.

“We visited farms in the Northern Territory, and would walk through their mango chain,” said Dr Lewis.

“By talking to people at the different stages, we could attain their perspectives on climate change adaptation, combine this with other climate data and analysis we did as part of our study, and then present that back to the partner organisation,” she said.

“We also presented them with different scenarios. So, if things continued the way they were, we could explore what Australia’s agricultural regions would look like in 10 years’ time in terms of climate policy, the environment, and the costs of goods and production.”

As part of this project,  the team developed an online self-assessment tool that Australian businesses can use to plan adaptation strategies and more accurately mitigate the effects of climate change.

“The managers of these businesses could use our tool to select where they operate and where their farms are, and that would automatically input the climate data we had for that product and for that region,” said Dr Lewis.

“They could work through different scenarios and play around with the options they have to harvest at a different time, or to plant crop varieties that might be more resilient to extreme heat events and long-term changes in climate.”

Dr Lewis also recognises that for a business to change and remain successful, consumers need to get on board.

If we look to the future, and accept that our physical environment – and also the market and economic environment – will be different, consumers will also have to do things to adapt.

“Producers can do a lot to guarantee a consistent standard with their food products and fresh produce, but if consumers are more aware of how climate change affects agriculture, they might understand why something tastes and looks a bit different, and still buy that product, rather than switching to another category.”

To help businesses get consumers on board, Dr Lewis was part of the team that conducted a large-scale survey of Australian consumers.

As part of this survey and subsequent focus groups, consumers were presented with different scenarios, and asked how their purchase and consumption behaviour might change.

“Through our report, we provided evidence for what Australian consumers currently think, and what the opportunities are for consumer education for businesses in those industries,” she said.

“People like knowing they can access fresh fruit and produce at a certain price, but there’s a lot of scope for businesses, government, and us as researchers to educate consumers about what climate change could mean for their consumption choices now and into the future.”

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