Australian Farms ‘Vulnerable’ to Climate Change, Garnaut Says

Australia, the fourth-largest wheat exporter, risked more climate-change damage than other developed countries partly because of the threat to its agriculture, said Ross Garnaut, the federal government’s adviser on the topic.

“Our agriculture is particularly vulnerable,” Garnaut told reporters in Canberra. “Australia is already a country of climate extremes where in many places in some parts of the year, temperatures are already near the upper limits of agriculture.”

Australia, also the fourth-largest cotton shipper and biggest coal exporter, will impose a price on carbon in July next year before the start of a trading system as early as 2015, according to plans set out by the ruling Labor Party. Record rain, flooding and a cyclone in the nation’s east damaged crops this season, while drought cut output in the west, increasing concerns that climate volatility and warming will curb output.

“In southern Australia, and most clearly and strongly in southwest Australia, the warming will be accompanied by a drying, on average, that will create a special challenge and that is already being felt in the Western Australian wheat belt, leading to some major changes in farming patterns,” Garnaut said today, based on the climate outlook provided by models.

Wheat futures on the Chicago Board of Trade gained 60 percent in the past year after Russia halted exports because of drought and rain threatened milling-quality supplies in Australia and parts of Europe. The May-delivery contract fell 0.3 percent to $8.0825 a bushel at 4:27 p.m. Melbourne time.

Food Prices

World food prices are expected to gain in the first half of the twenty-first century after declining in the second half of the previous century, reflecting a rising population and higher incomes, slower agricultural yield growth and the effect of climate change, Garnaut earlier told the Australian Bureau of Agricultural & Resource Economics & Sciences outlook conference.

“The big effects on rural production of climate change are in the future, but there have already been some effects and the intensification of extreme weather events is one of the things the science tells us to expect,” he said.

Australia has been hit in the past three months by floods, bushfires and Tropical Cyclone Yasi, which killed at least 36 people, destroyed homes and wiped out crops. The Greens party, whose support Gillard needs to pass climate legislation in the upper house Senate, has blamed climate change for the increased intensity and frequency of extreme weather events.

Warming would also have the effect of reducing runoff into Australian irrigation dams and drying out soils more quickly, Garnaut said.

Drought, Frost

Susan Findlay Tickner, who farms wheat, barley, lentils and chickpeas in Victoria state, said in the past 13 years the property had endured drought, extreme frost, heat and rain events during critical production times and she was looking at ways to manage the risk.

“Climate variability in the form of extreme weather events has impacted on our business,” she told the Outlook conference.

The federal government intends to exclude agriculture from the price set for carbon. The government is also planning to allow farmers to earn credits for measures that reduce emissions, which could provide a financial benefit to farmers through trading opportunities, Garnaut said.

The opposition Liberal-National coalition has vowed to repeal Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s carbon-price proposal if it wins the next election.

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