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Published: 10 Nov 2022

A TEAM of University of Tasmania researchers exploring profitable, sustainable livestock businesses in an increasingly variable climate is warning farmers that the future is here.

While concentrating on future climates, the reality of climate change is already impacting food production, livestock production, profitability, and greenhouse gas emissions, according to one of the researchers.

Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture whole farm systems modeller Dr Karen Christie is working on the Nexus Project, which uses social research and biophysical and economic modelling to examine the impact of climate change to 2030 and 2050 on livestock businesses in Tasmania.

It relies on observations and historical data collected from two case study farms - one sheep farm in the Northern Midlands and one beef farm in the North-West.

Another five case studies are underway on the mainland eastern seaboard.

"The whole globe is having to work with the increasingly grim problem of how to continue feeding our growing population, with fewer resources and in a climate that's getting more variable," Dr Christie said.

“We want to see how pasture production increases or decreases into the future, how is wool and meat production impacted and what are the profitability implications.

"This might lead to revelations around when and how much supplementary feed is needed if the window for conserving excess pasture into hay and silage is shortening, and if warmer winters are likely to produce earlier spring growth and therefore affect the timing of breeding.

"Over the long term, calving and lambing dates could be adjusted sooner into the year. Farmers could consider taking lambs through to Christmas, to get a few more kilos on them.”

Dr Christie said that while the eye is on the prize of increased livestock production and profit, it must not come at the expense of greenhouse gas emissions.

Meat and Livestock Australia, one of the Nexus project funding partners, has a target of net zero greenhouse gas emission by 2030 lending importance to a search for farming options that don't jeopardise those targets.

"We have explored different pasture species for both farms. For the Northern Midlands farm, what if we planted the deep-rooted perennjal talish clover or lucerne across a proportion of the farm to fill in some feed gaps, knowing that at the same time they're more resilient to a future drier climate?" said Dr Christie.

"How can you maximise production off irrigated land is another area of focus.

"For instance, irrigation in the Northern Midlands has meant the traditional wool farmers have been able to consider diversifying into prime lambs or a high-income cash crop like poppies.”

Giving researchers an advantage is the ability to also study what has been happening with climate change interstate, looking at how the red meat industry and viticulture have been adapting in a warmer climate, whether it's a change in pasture species or diversification or purchasing more land in a cooler climate.

"Whatever the future holds with our climate, farming success will rely on the ability to be agile and make sound decisions based on information that we can help provide," Dr Christie said.

The Nexus Project is funded by the Meat & Livestock Australia and UTAS and will be completed early next year.

Source: This article was published in Tasmanian Country Newspaper on 4 November 2022