Australia’s farming future: Tasmania

Rising temperatures may have drastic impacts on the world’s wine regions but Tasmania is using climate variability as a driver for innovation. Flickr/santheo

Wine grapes are a sensitive bunch. As Australia’s climate changes, the future of Australia’s viticulture will depend on the adaptability of its wine-growers.

Tasmania produces wine with unique, cool-climate characteristics. But Tasmania is also warming: temperatures are predicted to rise by between 1.6°C and 2.9°C by 2100. How can Tasmania’s viticulturists adapt?

Not too cold, not too hot

Wine-growing, or viticulture, is particularly sensitive to temperature changes. A recent study suggested that many of the world’s famous wine regions will be unsuitable for grapes by 2050.

On the Australian mainland, researchers are already reporting climate change impacts, including earlier bud burst, ripening and harvesting.

While many of us struggle to envision the future effects of climate change, large commercial winemakers from the mainland are already securing fruit contracts and vineyards in Tasmania as a response to recent higher temperatures.

In Tasmania maximum and minimum temperatures will change. Rainfall patterns may change significantly from season to season and from region to region, with more rain expected on the coasts and less in central Tasmania. Rainfall intensity and associated flooding may increase, and there may be longer periods between rainfall.

All of this matters for grapes. 2100 may seem like the future that never comes, but winegrowers cherish old vines and demand a premium price for their quality. The 85-year-old vines that will produce an exceptional Tasmanian drop in 2100 need to be planted now.

A wider palate

Most Tasmanian farmers are approaching these changes with a glass-half-full attitude.

Tasmania’s diverse environment is highly likely to continue to support production of cool climate wines into the future, though the location of these vineyards may change.

More excitingly, Tasmanian producers will be able to offer a more diverse palate of grape varieties. Within decades, full-bodied Tasmanian Cabernet Sauvignons or Merlots are not out of the question, although the island will maintain its distinctiveness and fame for its outstanding Pinots.

While Tasmania might not be able to move viticulture further south to keep pace with the warming, some of the higher-altitude areas in the state do offer untapped areas for wine-growing. Pinot noir varieties, for example, may need to move to cooler areas at higher elevations.

Increased temperatures mean the state could soon offer grape varieties beyond its famous Pinots. Flickr/stefano lubiana wines

Let’s drink to that

Tasmanian farmers credit their flexibility, diversity and resourcefulness for their ability to manage climate variability. Some say they have been adapting to climate change for decades.

Since the 1950s, Tasmanian farmers have experienced mean annual temperature rises of 0.1°C per decade. Daily minimum temperatures have increased more than daily maximum temperatures. Total annual rainfall has decreased, with the greatest reduction in autumn. Farmers’ take on the future depends on likely climate changes in their region and the opportunities or challenges this may bring.

What is a current management strategy for some farmers is seen as a future option for farmers working in different regions. Farmers might call on strategies such as:

  • changing sowing/harvesting times for crops (earlier crops, earlier harvests)
  • changing stock management (earlier or later lambing) and stock agistment
  • planting fodder crops
  • planting new crop and pasture cultivars
  • introducing new machinery and technology
  • increasing diversity on the farm and changing crops to use perennial horticulture.

While the culture of adaptability is well-established among the island’s farmers, access to cutting-edge research, innovation, education and resources is going to play an ever more critical role in their ability to manage change.

The Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture at UTAS, in collaboration with the Tasmanian Government, has developed the first seven in a series of information sheets from the data generated from the Climate Futures for Tasmania (CFT) project to assist farmers, growers and graziers understand and respond to the projected impacts of climate change on agricultural production.

The climate futures reports provide information on the likely impacts of climate change in Tasmania on general climate, water and catchments, agriculture, and extreme events. They provide information for land managers on how to manage and take advantage of these impacts on a range of local agricultural enterprises.

Tasmania is not only facing up to the challenge of climate variability – but is using it as a driver for innovation. Tasmanian viticulturalists are already thinking about and assessing climate change adaptation options. And, adapting to constant change is certainly not a new concept for the island’s, and Australia’s, broader agricultural industry.