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Published: 5 Dec 2022

TIA Social Research Fellow, Dr Nicoli Barnes is exploring the social issues that arise around climate change and livestock production in Tasmania.

What project are you working on?

I’m involved with four projects at the moment, but the largest of these is the Livestock Production Project – Nexus. Nexus targets research concerning possible livestock production system adaptions to the extremes of climate change and for green house gas (GHG) emissions reduction.  Climate change has impacted Tasmania in multiple ways: lower rainfall, an increase in temperature, rising sea levels and ocean acidity, and an increase in GHG emissions from carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide which the agricultural sector contributes to.  So there is a real need to act so that we can avert further future issues.

The overall project is exploring a range of adaptions which include:

Low Hanging Fruit Adaptions – simple, reversible, and immediate changes to farming systems such as adapting lambing/calving dates to suit feed supply, adapting pasture species for greater root depth and Carbon sequestration.

Towards Carbon Neutral Adaptions – changes that reduce GHG emissions such as pasture renovation and vaccination of animals to reduce methane output.

Income Diversification Strategies – generating income from alternative sources that are lower GHG emitters than livestock e.g. an irrigated vineyard, wind turbines.

Transformational Strategies – longer term, more high risk approaches. In Nexus this involves stacking all the above strategies together.

Modelling is being done to see the effects of these adaptions and mitigation strategies over time with projections being made for both 2030 and 2050 – looking at production, profitability and environmental impact.

My part in this research is to explore the social issues that arise around climate change and livestock production. This has included exploring the social license for livestock production, where it was found that Tasmanian consumers are highly supportive of Tasmanian farmers, they want Tasmanian farmers to get a fair price for their produce and they would prefer their red meat to come from farms where animal welfare, environmental stewardship and land care is embedded in practice (Tasmanian Project 2021).  We are currently in the process of finding out about producers perspectives about livestock production through a survey of Tasmanian red meat producers.

Sitting alongside this research is an exploration of how producers might go about changing their farming practices and systems to respond to climate change.  We are asking questions about: making change in general; how producers make change specifically to accommodate the climate change adaptions and GHG emission mitigation strategies we are exploring; and what education, support, skills and knowledge is required to support this type of change.

How is the project funded?

MLA and TIA are the funding providers for the Tasmanian part of the project, and we are collaborating with University of Melbourne in Victoria and NSW, and the CSIRO in Queensland.

What challenge does your research aim to solve?

The Nexus project focuses on developing effective farming adaptions that producers can use to address the extremes of climate change; and developing frameworks and guidelines that effectively support producers to take up of these adaptions.  This means that as climate change continues, livestock producers will be able to respond and adapt to the changes they encounter.

How will your research be used by the agricultural industry?

If we can identify both effective adaptions and effective strategies for helping livestock producers adapt, then we can contribute to the many sustainable responses required to respond to climate change in agriculture. The Nexus team is coming up with options for producers who can then chose what suits their finances, their farms and themselves.

Could you share a career highlight? 

As a critical sociologist, my career highlight - and the best part of my job - has always been the people I get to research with.  I have researched with some amazingly gutsy young people who were homeless and abused and yet still managed to get themselves back to school and into employment – despite a system that didn’t seem to want to help them.  I have worked with some highly dedicated Aboriginal women and men in communities in the Northern Territory, who were determined to get a Bachelor of Education so they could become the teachers of their communities’ future leaders.  I also researched in universities in Indonesia/Bali within English language learning programs. I have seen the impact this education has on addressing the disadvantage and poverty experienced by street kids in Bali.  Now I am working with Tasmanian livestock producers who are committing themselves, their land and their livelihoods to making huge changes for the good of the climate and our future.  People are pretty amazing creatures so researching with and about them is always surprising, very gratifying and a distinct privilege.