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Australia’s farming future: Western Australia

Climate change, and its associated variability, is posing a challenge for farm businesses in Western Australia. The grainbelt has experienced a 20% decline in rainfall over the last several decades, more…

New drought policy is designed to manage the risks climate change conditions pose to successful crop production in Western Australia. Flickr/Grevillea

Climate change, and its associated variability, is posing a challenge for farm businesses in Western Australia. The grainbelt has experienced a 20% decline in rainfall over the last several decades, more than any other wheat-growing region in Australia.

The magnitude of drying, especially since the mid-1970s, has been far greater than was projected in the late 1980s by the then best-available global climate models.

Since the 1970s most parts of WA’s south west are yet to experience an extremely wet year. The absence of wet years makes runoff into farm dams problematic and dries soil, making plant growth very dependent on growing season rainfall. Crop yields become more vulnerable to spring conditions.

If such drier, warmer conditions signify southern Australia’s future agricultural environment, then learning about how Western Australian farm businesses are responding to these conditions has relevance for other regions also projected to experience similar climate change.

Resilience through productivity

Recent research published by the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF) today (May 17) has tracked the financial performance of a diverse set of 249 farm businesses in Western Australia from 2002 to 2011. These 10 years were a challenging period, underpinned by a warming and drying trend in climate, large frosts and volatility in farm commodity prices.

In spite of the climate and price challenges they faced, almost two-thirds (64%) of the farms were classed as financially growing or strong businesses, generating average annual rates of return to farmers’ equity of at least 8%. However, 15% of the sample were classed as having potential financial risk, with their annual returns averaging only 6%.

The profitability of these farms was supported by their productivity growth, rather than rising commodity prices. Productivity gains allowed most farm businesses, especially crop and mixed enterprise farm businesses, to prosper.

The pathway to profits was mostly due to farmers improving their use of existing technologies, including technologies that offered economies from increasing the size of farm operations.

Farmers shifted into greater dependence on cropping, especially wheat production, and this proved to be a sensible and successful adaptation strategy in many parts of the Western Australian grainbelt. Decades of wheat breeding and agronomic research, coupled with modern machinery and herbicide technologies, have allowed wheat to be a widely adapted crop that adds to the resilience of farm businesses.

Drought policy shifts to risk management

Droughts imperil crop production and frequent or long-lasting droughts can cripple some farm businesses. If climate change does lead to natural environments less conducive to crop and pasture production, then government policy and action that facilitates adaptation by farmers and communities will be important.

Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig has said there will be “no lines on maps” where only farmers in a drought-declared region would receive assistance while adjoining neighbours across the “drought” line would not qualify for aid.

In early May, federal, state and territory primary industries ministers signed a joint agreement on drought policy reform. From July 2014 drought programs will focus on lifting farmers’ skills in risk management and business preparedness to respond to challenges like drought.

Elements of the program include:

  • farm household support (payments based on need)
  • continued access to Farm Management Deposits and taxation measures
  • a national approach to farm business training
  • a coordinated, collaborative approach to the provision of social support services
  • tools and technologies to help farmers make decisions.

Western Australia conducted a successful pilot of these drought reform measures from July 2010 to June 2012.

These changes in drought policy mark a move away from providing subsidies for freight, fodder and finance. The shift in policy is towards a greater or maintained role in education, welfare and business skill enhancement.

Farmers scarred by natural events like drought may want more from their governments as they look enviously to their European and North American counterparts who receive generous government subsidies and support. However, the fiscal mood among state and federal governments in Australia is increasingly austere. This new policy that focuses on targeted spending to help farmers prepare for and better manage business risks is unlikely to dramatically change any time soon.

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92 Comments sorted by

  1. Mike Stasse

    retired energy consultant

    Climate Change may well have a big impact on WA's agricultural sector....... but the real nail in the coffin will be Peak Oil. At least with cheap and abundant oil we can literally do anything, like desal. But remove its capacity to do work...? And Australia will be, on current trend, totally out of oil some time within the next six years....... has ANYONE factored in the cost of importing 100% of our oil from countries that increasingly need it to develop their own neck of the woods...?

    I'll bet not.

    Limits to Growth, as predicted forty years ago, is here. I predict WA will be mostly abandoned within twenty years.

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    1. Tyson Adams

      Scientist and author

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Nope. Climate change is happening right now and is wreaking havoc right now.

      The areas talked about don't irrigate, so water from the pipe is only for stock. But this is already slowed to a trickle so that farmers are "dissuaded" from watering stock.

      Cost of production, as Ross points out, are already very high, whilst returns are not really changing.

      The "get big or get out" economies of scale hasn't exactly helped, either. According to some analyses (hopefully Roger Crook can chip in here) land values have doubled every decade, yet productivity has declined. This means that land is overvalued, but operating loans and farm debt is based upon that overvalued land.

      Peak oil won't be the nail in the coffin, it will come far too late for that. That assertion also neglects the technologies arising in biofuels currently.

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    2. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Tyson Adams

      Hahaha.......... Peak Oil was at least five years ago! "Cost of production, as Ross points out, are already very high". WHY?

      Peak Oil................ that's why. Biofuels are non starters. The Energy Return on Energy Invested is absolutely puny in comparison to fossil fuels, sometimes even negative.

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    3. Tyson Adams

      Scientist and author

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Do you have a reference for your peak oil claims? Because I'm pretty sure we would have heard a bit more about it in places like The Conversation if it had already happened.

      And costs of production have always been increasing. Real prices have been decreasing pretty steadily forever. http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/61cfc5401332ba40ca2570d60018db27/f77410bea9e6b992ca2570de0016948e/Body/2.44AC!OpenElement&FieldElemFormat=gif
      http://www.regional.org.au/au/asa/2008/plenary/emerging-opportunities/5923_keatingb-2.gif

      Also, you can't declare biofuels non-starters without some sort of a reference. Especially considering the recent and continued work that is showing value.

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    4. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Mike, it's perfectly plausible that we're somewhere in the neighbourhood of peak oil - as you know, it's really more a few decades on top of the curve on the chart, rather than a precise date - but whether the 'peak' was a few years ago, just now or coming soon, I think the full impacts are still a fair way off and, as Tyson points out, the impacts of climate change are already pretty real. Peak oil may end up performing the coup-de-grace on the industry, but it will already be pretty moribund by then, I suspect...

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    5. Daniel Boon

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      Ummm, Mike Stasse got in before me, but that's all good because I agree with his take ...

      I think that its delusional to not interpret the high cost of (oil) energy as indicative of 'Peak Oil'; there was a general consensus that we 'would run out', but the reality was always that the ERoEI (the amount of energy cost to net energy delivered) would have a cross-over point. This was demonstrated in the GFC, where the ceiling was (from memory $147 a barrel) was where the emergy (embodied energy…

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    6. Roger Crook

      Retired agribusiness manager & farmer

      In reply to Tyson Adams

      There are so many different aspects to the movement to the west (so less in the east) of rainfall in the farming areas of Western Australia and the effect that movement is having not just on the productivity but the profitability (for what else matters?) of farming in those areas.

      For those interested they could study: http://adl.brs.gov.au/data/warehouse/pe_abares99001788/Grains_WA_Eastern_11.pdf As there is some interest in ROI, again this ABARES/GRDC study is illuminating in that regard…

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    7. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Daniel Boon

      Sorry Daniel, but different extraction methods don't yet constitute 'impacts' in the direct knocking-out-industries sense we were discussing. I'm not disputing that we're pretty much at peak oil now, nor that we're beginning to move into more desperate, low ERoEI extraction methods - nor that the impacts will be pretty serious - it's just that fuel prices and availability are not yet at the stage where they're really biting most industries, including farming, hard enough to be a major factor. However, exactly how far off that point may be, I'd agree, is a fair subject for debate.

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    8. Daniel Boon

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      Exactly in what field of environmental managing are you Felix?

      Look, that's your opinion (for whatever its actually worth) ... when you have country that is flush with monies from flogging off the family (resources) heirlooms, money doesn't appear to be a problem yet!

      But post resources and local oil sold off, that 'impact' will be brutal; an associate just sent me this and I have taken a small part for your consideration ...

      Postscript – 1972
      The crisis in Bangladesh that spurred me…

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    9. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      Oh but Daniels's right.

      Most of the current "endless oil" fantasy we hear about in the US for instance revolves around shale oil. Just to get a visual idea of what this amounts to, consider that the oil coming out of these places is high cost and low flow-rate oil. This is exactly the opposite of what US oil production used to be (low cost and high flow-rate) when they were busy building all the freeways, strip malls, housing subdivisions, suburban office parks and all of the other stranded assets…

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    10. Tyson Adams

      Scientist and author

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      An article that clearly states: Yesterday, today or tomorrow? We don’t know.

      Also, the numbers are adjusted figures, so high dollar is taken into account in the adjustment. Technically, the inflation outstrips high dollar, "high" prices, etc.

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    11. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Daniel Boon

      Daniel, rather than childish insults, you might try engaging with my actual argument. All I said was that prices weren't yet biting that hard. I didn't raise issues around WHY prices are still relatively low and I largely agree that it's artificial. I also agreed that, at some stage in the probably not too distant future, peak poil almost certainly will bite. All I tried to point out was that, just at present, it wasn't hapening and to suggest it was probably a little way off yet.

      So, frankly, shove the paranoia, sunshine, and try engaging in reasoned debate,

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    12. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Mike, see my response above to Daniel. please stop projecting and try reading what I actually said.

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    13. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Tyson Adams

      The article also says "Some analysts argue this peak has already happened."

      Fact is, the pundits in charge of the spreadsheets are already adding stuff to oil that isn't oil to make the bottom line look good.....

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    14. Tyson Adams

      Scientist and author

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Once again, I'd like some information that supports your assertions. If you are correct in your claims, then peak oil will be a massive problem for agriculture and transport.

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    15. Peter Boyd Lane

      geologist

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Mike, 300m wells doing 5000 barrels/day not unusual? Looks likes the naughts are in the wrong place.

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    16. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Peter Boyd Lane

      Absolutely not......... we ARE talking "the good old days" well before the US oil production peaked in 1970. Furthermore, back in the 1930s, for every barrel of oil invested in finding and producing oil you could expect 100 back. Today you're lucky to get FOUR.........

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    17. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Tyson Adams

      Global oil may have been on "the bumpy plateau" for almost ten years, but it's expected that as of next year, production of "real oil" will start depleting steadily at 5 to 6% per annum.

      Some big wells like Cantarell in Mexico are going down in flames at some 16%, as is the North Sea..... and Australia. Our production fell by a whopping 26% in 2011!

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    18. In reply to Mike Stasse

      Comment removed by moderator.

    19. Daniel Boon

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Tyson Adams

      you mean 85% and climbing (to 99.9% in about 5 years ...)

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  2. Felix MacNeill

    Environmental Manager

    Given that drying impacts over the last 20 years or so have been worse than predicted - indeed, most climate change impacts tend to be, given the inherent caution of scientists and the political compromise that is (inevitably) the IPCC - and already many farms are struggling, despite significant agricultural research, chemical inputs and farm rationalisation, are we really talking here about anything much more than making things a bit more ship-shape in a canoe that is approaching a very large waterfall?

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    1. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Felix MacNeill

      I think Felix, it is a bit more like handing out of bigger paddles even if they do not help so much in backing up against the current and in fact they will give a greater surface for the current to propel the canoe forward.

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    2. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to Greg North

      That kind of perverse outcome may just be the problem, Greg.

      It's a bit like applauding when Walmart put solar panels on their stores, noting that they are reducing emissions and accepting graciously that, if they end up saving money thereby, they're just 'doing well by doing good', until you think about what the corporation will do with the money they save...

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  3. John Newlands

    tree changer

    I suggest WA is a more obvious example of the problems that will beset broadacre cropping areas world wide. Apart from erratic rainfall there is also the problem of the increasing cost of diesel and fertiliser. Some like to think we could cover millions of hectares with organic compost, perhaps spread by solar powered tractors. Alas I think not.

    I suspect that we may have to get less food from grain and perhaps more from root crops grown close to cities using treated effluent. This idea has been put forward by the FAO. Instead of a sandwich we might have a boiled spud grown nearby in raised beds. Current wheatbelt areas may be turned over to cattle (no need to clearfell Queensland) with stocking rates to follow rainfall.

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    1. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to John Newlands

      The kangaroos will follow rainfall at a greater rate of knots John and eating a few herds will be healthier for them and us.

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    2. Tyson Adams

      Scientist and author

      In reply to Greg North

      That's a great idea, Greg. We'll have a couple of kangaroos that are not maintained to healthy meat standards (like all the other animals we graze) replace 12 million tonnes of grain, 2 million cattle, 14 million sheep, half a million pigs, not to mention the horticultural produce.

      You're a genius!

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    3. Daniel Boon

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to John Newlands

      and the arability of the already over-farmed soil, escalating evaporation rates and drying hot winds that kill off the flowering buds?

      And these cattle will eat exactly what? Wheat uses far less water than a herd of cattle ...

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  4. Peter Boyd Lane

    geologist

    While global climate change has undoubtedly been the driver of SW declining rainfall, past and continuing land clearing and native forest logging have contributed to the problem and exacerbated it by causing salination. While farmers are making some real effort to remedy these problems the logging industry is pushing to accelerate logging of our already degraded (and in place salinated) forests. Google earth clearly shows the extent of this clearing.

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    1. Tyson Adams

      Scientist and author

      In reply to Peter Boyd Lane

      Salinity is still a big issue, but my understanding was that without the recharge of subsoils we were seeing a slowing of encroachment.

      Either way, salinity has become unpopular to talk about now. Just like logging. We do need to raise these issues in profile.

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  5. Neville Mattick
    Neville Mattick is a Friend of The Conversation.

    Grazier: ALP Member at A 4th Generation Grazing Station

    Is it any wonder that the Agricultural sector in Australia is in a parlous state.

    Given that I see auction sale prices for my produce are similar or lower than those of 1993 and yet have input costs in 2013.

    Of course the unspoken fact in all of this is that Treasury does not want primary commodities to increase in cost because of the 'off farm' mark up in them will cause an inflation spiral - so called "agflation" is not welcome; those in debt will become more unhappy with their relationship with their creditors' and blame the Farmers and Graziers' for, when, in fact it is another sector all together that makes the profit and I will leave the reader to answer that question for themselves.

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  6. Greg North

    Retired Engineer

    " Climate change, and its associated variability, is posing a challenge for farm businesses in Western Australia. The grainbelt has experienced a 20% decline in rainfall over the last several decades, more than any other wheat-growing region in Australia.

    The magnitude of drying, especially since the mid-1970s, has been far greater than was projected in the late 1980s by the then best-available global climate models. "

    Our experience of weather in Australia is only that of a couple of centuries…

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    1. Tyson Adams

      Scientist and author

      In reply to Greg North

      That is why we use many methods to calculate climate and not just a few years of local weather.

      There is no doubt about WA's changing climate due to climate change. There are less frequent and less intense frontal systems during the growing season. This is directly related to changes in the stream flow in the atmosphere. http://www.ioci.org.au/publications.html

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  7. Michael Croft

    logged in via LinkedIn

    Firstly I find it interesting that a farm is classified as a "financially growing or strong business" with average annual rates of return to farmers’ equity of at least 8%. Return on equity (ROE) of 8% or more is pathetic when compared to other business investments. Other business are considered strong when the return on the investment (ROI) is in the double digits. One industry I am familiar with won't even consider Capital Expenditure (CapEx) unless it returns over 15% on the total investment…

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    1. Greg North

      Retired Engineer

      In reply to Michael Croft

      All depends on what sort of assumptions you want to make Michael and for instance many people would see a return on equity as being measured after extraction of costs or otherwise with a huge loan and subsequent interest a business would not really be growing but going down the gurglar.

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    2. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Michael Croft

      See that's the trouble with bean counters. EVERYTHING's about money.....

      But farming? it's an essential service. Who cares if it isn't profitable...... we all have to eat, and unless we switch to sustainable practices, and quick smart at that, I see famines on the horizon.....

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    3. Michael Croft

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Greg North

      Agreed Greg, assumptions will determine outcomes, and my simplistic, but not unrealistic, example was assuming nett figures.

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    4. Michael Croft

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      You mentioned peak oil above Mike, so here are some figures Australians are generally unaware of. Conventional wisdom has Australian industrial farmers as some of the most efficient in the world, and this same wisdom claims that industrial farming is the most efficient way to farm. Yet in 1940 before the onslaught of industrial farming really kicked in, 1 calorie of oil produced and delivered 2.3 calories of food to the table - from field to fork. In 2000 it required between 8 and 10 calories of oil to produce and deliver 1 calorie of food to the table.

      Its a 'no-brainer' that a system this energy inefficient will collapse. That a system can be economically efficient and be simultaneously so energy inefficient, ought tell people that we are accurately measuring the wrong things.

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    5. Daniel Boon

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Michael Croft

      yes ... of every ten food energy calories (we consume), nine represent fossil fuel ... that's why food costs are going up ...

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    6. Roger Crook

      Retired agribusiness manager & farmer

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Q."Who cares if it isn't profitable?"
      A. Farmers in Australia.
      The rest of the world pays ~US$1 billion a day in agricultural subsidies. Australian agriculture is 'virtually' not subsidised. This makes it very difficult for Australian farmers to compete not only in export markets but ever-increasingly in the Australian domestic market.
      It has been said many times but eventually it might sink into the heads of those who make the decisions, for as long as we allow the big two or three retailers in the food business in Australia to scour the world for 'cheap' food so they may gain market share in Australia, and for as long as we allow those same firms to drive local producers returns down, down, down, so Australia will become ever more dependent on imported food.
      It's not, as they say, rocket science.
      Before anyone gets party political about this, one side, I can show, is or was as bad as the other.

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    7. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Roger Crook

      Of course the farmers care.... I didn't say "who cares" I just explained that farming is a special case and should NOT be treated like an ordinary business. Maybe that's WHY they are being subsidised everywhere..?

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    8. Roger Crook

      Retired agribusiness manager & farmer

      In reply to Mike Stasse

      Sorry, can be read both ways. Subsidies? Anywhere from 30% to 60% of gross income in US and EU.
      Budgets of two years ago in the UK showed for wheat 6 tonnes ha lost money, 7 tonnes the average, just made money and so on. That was before subsidy. As a consultant from Deloitte in East Anglia commented that if EU subsidies were withdrawn his clients would not grow food.

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  8. Greg Boyles

    Lanscaper and former medical scientist

    One can begin to see why intensive agriculture did no remain a significant component of aboriginal culture over their 40,000 year history on this continent.

    Agriculture just doesn't seem to pay in the long term on this continent.

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    1. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Greg Boyles

      Greg Boyles,
      I was not aware before you just mentioned it that there was ever any intensive agriculture under the aboriginal's 40,000 year regime. I wonder what evidence there is for that/ Since the beginning of any form of agriculture in the Middle East, Europe and the Americas, can only be traced from a few thousand years, it would seem very unlikely our aboriginal brothers were ever so involved.

      "Agriculture just doesn't seem to pay in the long term on this continent." is an interesting…

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    2. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to John Nicol

      As I understand it, aborigines did practice forms of low intensity agriculture in some areas.

      For example, permanent eel traps in stream might be viewed as a form of low intensity agriculture - places on streams there they could return to time and time again and be nearly assured of a small harvest.

      They also weeded patches of favored food plants and encouraged their spread as I understand it, e.g. yams.

      They burned off bush to encourage grasslands which in turn attracted favored herbivorous…

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    3. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Greg Boyles

      Greg,

      Thanks for your response to my comments. Yes, I guess if one does consider the use of eel and fish traps as a form of low intensity "agriculture" then you are right. The aborigines did indeed have a lot of very clever techniques for catching game, such as covering themselves with weeds and then standing for hours in a waterhole until a flock of ducks put down when it was possible - probably not easy - to catch them by the legs and pull them under the water. Some of their fish traps were…

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    4. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to John Nicol

      You misunderstand me John.

      In his book The Future Eaters, Tim Flannery speculated that the ancestors of aborigines may have practiced forms of agriculture similar to that practiced in the highlands of New Guinea 10s of thousands of years ago.

      The evidence shows that where ever the ecological conditions are suitable, humans have always developed some form of recognizable (to Europeans) agriculture and it is rather unusual that aborigines did not have any such recognizable agriculture when Europeans arrived in Australia.

      So Tim Flannery has postulated that the reason for this was that the climate and soils in Australia, at the time of European settlement and for a long time prior, where just not suitable for it without the assistance of beast of burden or steam power.

      Hence aborigines abandoned New Guinea style agriculture thousands of years ago in favor of more flexible and portable types of agriculture that Europeans failed to recognize.

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    5. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to Greg Boyles

      And most importantly less labor intensive forms of agriculture given that the long term returns of any form of agriculture that the aborigines might have practiced were dubious given periodic drought and flood and poor soils etc.

      The abandonment of labor intensive agriculture was a legacy of a drying climate, loss of megafauna and previously more productive ecosystems and soils and the exhaustion of soil nutrients due to massive erosion and bush fire.

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    6. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Greg Boyles

      Greg,

      Thanks for your comment and yes, I guess from what you have just said I did misunderstand your earlier comment.

      It would seem then that the arrival of the Europeans with their horses and later steam power, was what made agriculture in Australia again worthwhile.

      It would also appear, that from what Tim Flannery is saying, the climate in Australia had changed significantly to a much drier continent long before Captain Cook or Arthur Phillip landed here and with more tendency to drought…

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    7. Greg Boyles

      Lanscaper and former medical scientist

      In reply to John Nicol

      According to Tim Flannery, if you look at the historical accounts of members of Cooks expedition as they sailed the length of the east coast of Australia, there were constant accounts of smoke and fires and the incredulity of the Europeans as to why the aborigines were doing this over the entire east coast.

      No doubt the aborigines on the northern tropical coasts did their burning in the dry season.

      And even Tasmania is not immune from bushfires.

      Europeans have had a mere 200 year to try their horse/steam/oil powered agriculture.

      And there is no guarantee what so ever that we will continue to make it work as well we have so far.

      There is already abundant evidence of the strain that it is causing on Australian ecosystems across the continent.

      Our descendants may similarly have to abandon intensive agriculture because, even with oil power and fertilisers, it may not 'pay' in the long term.

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  9. Tyson Adams

    Scientist and author

    Thanks for the article Ross. It is good to see this information being shared with a large audience who don't normally hear much about agriculture, let alone agricultural economic realities.

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  10. trevor prowse

    retired farmer

    One research project which could make a difference to WA`s agriculture is some excellent research into legumes, that will grow on saline land. The research is led by Dr Phil Nichols ---Dept of AG ---using a legume called Messina ---Melilotus Siculus--and could be commercially available by 2015.

    Rainfall data from Southern Cross and Merridin does not follow the Majimup long term trends---(-Farm weekly 30th may) according to Peter Falconer.

    There does seem to be an effect on rainfall in the…

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    1. Tyson Adams

      Scientist and author

      In reply to trevor prowse

      Peter Falconer's charts were wrong. Not only did he literally make up a decade of data for Merredin, he tried to fit a linear trend to a non-linear and cyclical data set. Even his moving average lines were wrong (although they were closer to the sort of illustrative fitting needed).

      The simple fact is that Peter's interpretation of the data was comically simplified and lacking rudimentary analysis. The actual statistics show, as Ross has stated, a 20% decline in rainfall for the grain belt. That…

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    2. Roger Crook

      Retired agribusiness manager & farmer

      In reply to trevor prowse

      Trevor,

      Have a look at the reference I give earlier on this thread to the ABARE/GRDC study on grain growing in the eastern wheatbelt. It's all there. Your questions are answered. Then ponder on the increase in the rural debt over time.
      As we all know debts must be repaid as and when they fall due. It would seem in the case of rural debts this has not been the case in that they have not been repaid, or, debt has been incurred on an 'interest only' agreement for a period of time. If one doesn't meet those deadlines, all one is left to ponder is the term 'deadline'.

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    3. Mike Stasse

      retired energy consultant

      In reply to Roger Crook

      I'm glad you brought up debt....... because Peak Debt is the other nail in the coffin of agriculture as we know it. Debts will NEVER be repaid, because economic growth, or at least sufficient economic growth, as we now take for granted, is as good as finished. And without this growth, the credit from fractional banking dries up. In fact the banks need bailouts, at everyone;s expense, not least the poor farmers.

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  11. John Nicol

    logged in via email @bigpond.com

    Ross,

    I assume that by "climate change" you are referring to the hypothesis that increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will lead to an Enhanced Green House Effect? You also acknowledge that the earlier - and in fact present day - models were/are very inaccurate.

    I am not sure if you would attach the same changes in rainfall in WA to the 160 year climate rainfall cycle which is very well documented and in fact persists very clearly in the Eastern states of Australia. The mean rainfall…

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    1. Felix MacNeill

      Environmental Manager

      In reply to John Nicol

      Perhaps he was refering to the hypothesis that gravity will tend to make large things fall to earth...or the hypothesis that it is unwise to stick your finger sinto a power point...or any number of other scientific hypotheses that are supported by enormous bodies of high quality evidence.

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  12. Peter Boyd Lane

    geologist

    Australian oil production about 400,000 bopd, consumption about 1,000,000 bopd. Due to quality of crudes, refinery designs and the market we export and import oil so our reliance on foreign oil is not a simple number or percentage of consumption.

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  13. Eddy Schmid

    Retired

    WOW, All the 'experts' totally blowing away all the skeptics with their expertise, graphs and data usually gleaned from other's sources and rehashed to sustain their own views and ideas.

    Whilst the arguments may go on, about our primary producers positions in this state, I find funny, that all the so called 'experts' throwing their statements around willy nilly, no one eve mentions the FACT, there should not be even ONE wheat growing farm East of Merradin.
    When the Kalgoorlie water pipleline…

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    1. Tyson Adams

      Scientist and author

      In reply to Eddy Schmid

      Actually, the land was cleared to provide wood for the steam engines that ran to Kalgoorlie.

      And drawing a line in the sand isn't rational. Soil type variations alone, let alone the wet patches from system convergence, show that you can't call that line in the sand a "fact" because it is arbitrary.

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    2. Roger Crook

      Retired agribusiness manager & farmer

      In reply to Tyson Adams

      I suggest that both Tyson and Eddy get themselves a copy of 'The Salinity Crisis' ISBN 1-876268-60-3. If you accept the research of the authors, you will appreciate that the first warnings of salinity in the wheatbelt of WA came from the railway operators and were many years before permission to clear the land for farming was granted. Much was doomed before it began.

      I would welcome a discussion on salinity. I am unable to start that discussion.

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  14. Garry Baker

    researcher

    Anyone with half a capacity for real time observation would already know WA farmers have been in a fix for years now, and as they walk off the land Chinese buyers have been swooping on the place in droves. Given the lack of support from their own(cashed up) state government, one might reasonably predict citizens of the West will be begging for their home grown food in the years to come. Indeed, their capacity to grow food is disappearing fast, and whatever crop might be grown there, will not be…

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    1. Tyson Adams

      Scientist and author

      In reply to Garry Baker

      Do you have any actual evidence for your claims about Chinese buyers?

      Also, you link to Tim's article which pretty much agrees with Ross' article here. Neither of which support your doomsday scenario.

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    2. Roger Crook

      Retired agribusiness manager & farmer

      In reply to Garry Baker

      Well of course, Gary, you are wrong. I suggest you have a look at a book 'A Story of A first Hundred Years' edited by Sir Hal Colebatch.

      Then you may care to refer to 'The Salinity Crisis' Now Prof Q Beresford, Prof (I think) Hugo Bekle, Dr Harry Phillips and a Jane Mulcock, with whom I have no record since the book, were the authors. My apologies Jane.

      It matters little, in my opinion, what we did or did not do in the past. What matters is what we do, or do not do, again in my view because of apathy, or self interest, in the future.

      It contributes little to criticize the past. As Churchill said, 'You will never get to the end of a journey if you stop to shy a stone at every dog that barks'.

      In my view, too much shying, not enough thinking.

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    3. Roger Crook

      Retired agribusiness manager & farmer

      In reply to Garry Baker

      Garry,
      now, and as they walk off the land Chinese buyers have been swooping on the place in droves.

      That's rubbish.

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    4. Garry Baker

      researcher

      In reply to Tyson Adams

      Make no bones about it, Australia's means of food production is on the block, and WA is on the menu. A friend of mine involved in equity financing was in the Hyden district earlier in the year - and he relates a first hand account of just who is doing the circling. Added to this, the grain handling facilIties are next. As with elsewhere in Australia - no records of the new owners are kept in a central location. Indeed, like the rest of the country with a raft of sudden revelations, manufacturing…

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    5. Tyson Adams

      Scientist and author

      In reply to Garry Baker

      I had heard those deals had fallen through.

      Also, the link on average age and the like, it is hard to understand the actual stats on farms from snapshots. Mainly because a lot of them don't collect deep data on farms. For example, aging farmers doesn't really measure the "understudy" in the business.

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    6. Roger Crook

      Retired agribusiness manager & farmer

      In reply to Tyson Adams

      Some deals have fallen through, mainly in the dairy industry, many in broad acre certainly have not.

      As for the average age of farmers one can only deal with the stats available and observe those who attend farmer meetings. If there are those 'understudying' the management of our farms they do not attend meeting in the same numbers as those represented on the stats.

      Research will show that Australia is not alone in the developed world facing the challenge of an aging farmer population, the EU, USA and Canada face the same challenge. A few years ago 80% of farmers in the UK could not identify a successor.

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    7. Daniel Boon

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Garry Baker

      The concern / disappointment is complicit politicians and senior bureaucrats in Australia's sell-out; they are happy to be the 'kapo' of their own region/s in a not too distant future ... a mate has just leased a farm (of several thousand acres) from Malaysian owners buying up big in Victoria ... and given an all but non-existent foreign ownership register, for whatever pitiful reason/s will eventually be met with the standard government response 'ignorance is no excuse' ...

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    8. Roger Crook

      Retired agribusiness manager & farmer

      In reply to Daniel Boon

      We need to retain, even develop some balance regarding foreign ownership of land in Australia. If we look at our history it has always been thus. Agriculture has always been an attractive investment, right from the very beginning of white settlement.
      I know of Malaysian interests who have owned large tracts of agricultural land in WA for more than thirty years. This may be of interest:
      The Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC), in their publication ‘Foreign investment in…

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    9. Daniel Boon

      logged in via LinkedIn

      In reply to Roger Crook

      I don't want to argumentative for the sake of argument (maybe a little); but the figures of what constitutes arability by the UN and what is fact is most likely two different things ... (government/s have been known to fudge figures) ... and what if that foreign arable land-ownership is prime land, then it is relevant.

      And I'd be interested (and most others) on how the RIRDC complied its information when no register/s exist ... or do they?

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    10. Roger Crook

      Retired agribusiness manager & farmer

      In reply to Daniel Boon

      Daniel,

      You won't get me to argue, I can look it up but, from memory, I got the RIRDC info from their site. I wouldn't quote them without a ref.

      Point(s) taken in your para 1. The UN publish figures on how much arable land we a losing each year to urbanisation, desertification and so on, haven't seen an argument against those numbers, ever.

      Your para 2. Perhaps you should ask them for clarification?

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    11. trevor prowse

      retired farmer

      In reply to Roger Crook

      What most farmers fear from non-Australian ownership of land is not the competition -but the ability of non -Australians to reduce our transport volume ,which will increase costs, to have the ability to import machinery below our purchasing costs, have an ability in some cases to have dubious accounting practises to reduce their taxation and also alter the social balance. I think Senator Joyce was concerned that because the sale of 4 properties ,up to 100 km apart was put up in a way that made it difficult for any locals having the ability to borrow such a large sum.

      Your data on the reasons for debt in Australia can not be questioned and really it emphasises that economic considerations have more causes for the debt problems, than the rise of the average temperature of 0.9 degrees over the last l00 years. I would also wonder if, with the production of grain in Australia ,if you relate it to the effective rainfall would show an increase.

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    12. Tyson Adams

      Scientist and author

      In reply to trevor prowse

      Trevor, feel free to drop me an email, I can send you through some of the WA statistics on rainfall, temperature, etc, for either the state or individual locations.

      Simple answer is that yes, temperature has had an impact. Rainfall has changed. The frontal systems are less frequent and less intense. We also get more blocking highs (due to the changes in Indian Ocean and Southern Ocean temps). This is really messing with rainfall, especially in May and June. This link provides a lot of info on this: http://www.ioci.org.au/publications.html

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    13. trevor prowse

      retired farmer

      In reply to Tyson Adams

      The BOM rainfall records for Narembeem, Hyden,Bullfinch,Moorine Rock and Merredin do NOT show a fall in the trends in annual rainfall. The reason I mention this is it is too easy to make a blanket assumption that the reduction in rainfall in Southwest Western Australia applies to the eastern wheat belt. The farm I used to own in the Darkan shire also did not have a falling rainfall trend since 1950. The depreciation of the money from1992 to 2012 should be adjusted to make the comparison between the debt of 12.4 billion and the later debt of 66 billion.The average yields when I started farming in 1958 were at least 50 % of which are being achieved now. I think you can not blame farmers increased debt on the climate , but you can put some blame on the subsidies of our competitors. I think WA farmers are the most innovative in the world and they have led the world in producing grain on some of the worlds poorest soils. Hats off to WA farmers.

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    14. Tyson Adams

      Scientist and author

      In reply to trevor prowse

      Trevor, they actually do. As I said, feel free to email me and I can send you the stats.

      I haven't done Bullfinch, but I have done it as part of an amalgamated data set for the Yilgarn. I have done Merredin (both stations separately), Hyden, Moorine Rock and Narembeen (not to mention all the others all over the state). Pretty much without exception there has been a significant decline in growing season rainfall, mostly in the order of 25-40mm in the May-June period. Annual rainfall is a different story as there is a general 15-30% increase in large summer rainfall events that throw the stats out on annual figures in some instances.

      But there is absolutely no doubt that rainfall in the eastern wheatbelt has declined for the reasons I previously outlined.

      And I never blamed farm debt on climate change. But climate change is a reality that is often not being accounted for in seasonal and long term planning and risk management. This has an impact on farm debt.

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    15. trevor prowse

      retired farmer

      In reply to Tyson Adams

      I can not find your contact number so will summerise my coments
      Senthold Asseng,
      David J. Pannell
      "Adapting dryland agriculture to climate change: Farming implications and research and development needs in Western Australia"-----said----4 Discussion
      "Our results show that the observed lower rainfall in the 1975–2004 period relative
      to the 1945–1974 period did not result in a reduction of the simulated yield but
      has potentially a large impact on the hydrology of these farming systems…

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    16. Tyson Adams

      Scientist and author

      In reply to trevor prowse

      Senthold's work is right. May-June is the main drop in most eastern locations, July is a bigger rainfall month than May, so that is the reason for its greater billing.

      The lack of drop in yields is due to the offset from seeding technology and agronomic packages. Since 2000 yields have been stagnant or declining in the eastern wheatbelt (long term average down by ~1-200 kg/ha, not significant).

      My original point was that rainfall has dropped in these areas, it is impacting yields. The thing is that there are also confounding factors like improved technology over the top of that, offsetting those losses. What we are seeing is a stagnation instead. Remember, we used to have a 2-3% gain due to improvements, now that is being gobbled up by climate change.

      You can tweet me or email via my webpage.

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    17. trevor prowse

      retired farmer

      In reply to Tyson Adams

      David Pannell is ARC Federation Fellow and Winthrop Professor, School of Agricultural and Resource Economics, and Director of the Centre for Environmental Economics and Policy, at The University of Western Australia.---said this------
      "A third change, not considered by Ludwig et al. (2009), has been the increase in atmospheric CO2. Higher CO2 has presumably contributed to the climatic changes (especially tempterature) but has another effect on crop yields, through so-called “CO2 fertilization” (Attavanich and McCarl, 2012). Increases in atmospheric CO2 concentration over the past 50 years have increased wheat yields in Western Australia by approximately 2–8 %." A comment followed said that the dwarf bred varieties tend not to have as high a response and that plant breeders could direct their efforts towards more responsive genetic material.

      Any plant scientists listening!

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    18. Tyson Adams

      Scientist and author

      In reply to trevor prowse

      I am a plant scientist and Dave is right. We could be breeding with different lines that would accept the better water use efficiency that comes with increased CO2, but from what I understand we'd lose other traits that are just as important (adaptation to our photoperiod, soils, season type, etc).

      But the CO2 advantage is highly limited by drought or water stress periods, as the increased WUE is limited by the plant's ability to respond to stressors. There is some work going on now that is identifying the proteins that more seasonally plastic varieties and the more drought tolerant varieties have. If these two were combined, assuming they could be combined, we might have a handy offset mechanism.

      Then you only have to dream of breeding new varieties taking less time than it currently does.

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  15. Shirley Birney

    logged in via email @tpg.com.au

    That's an awful lot of salt on the land in the photograph Prof. Kingwell has provided.

    They say a picture is worth a thousand words which would be required to address costs and remediation measures on the profound dryland salinity crisis in WA.

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