What climate change means at farm level

A photo by Heather Downing of the kids and me out on the farm for the Earth Hour cookbook, which appeared in The Age today

When journalist from The Age Liam Mannix asked me how climate change was affecting our farm, the answer was: in every possible way, beginning with the circle of life.

When I was a girl, we used to get the ute, the tractor and our gumboots bogged every winter. It rained and rained and rained and rained and…you get the picture. Well, not any more. With the odd exception, the winters are warmer and drier these days. Boggings are a rare novelty for my kids.

This has some real benefits. Warmer, drier winters are much easier on the cows, calves and the grass. Much easier on us, too (plugging through deep mud in horizontal rain is character-building stuff)! We can grow a lot more grass in winter and that’s fantastic.

Less than fantastic are the changing shoulders of the season – sprummer and autumn. Spring can come to an abrupt halt very early in November these days and we often wait much longer into autumn for rain.

Every rain-fed farmer like me tries to match the cow’s natural lactation curve with the grass’s growth. In fact, the amount of grass the cows harvest is the number one predictor of dairy farm profitability. So, looking at the new growth patterns, we took the plunge a few years ago and shifted the circle of life to match. Now, calves begin to arrive in early May rather than mid-July.

Our decision is backed by hard data. Dairy guru, Neil Lane, has researched local statistics and found that farms just 10 minutes away have seen falls in production of 1 tonne of dry matter per hectare and increasing risk around late spring and autumn. On our 200 hectare farm, that’s 200 tonnes every year valued at roughly $300 per tonne we lose. That’s a lot of ground to make up.

But all is not lost. Dairy farmers are adapting at break-neck speed. We are on the cusp of breeding cows that are more resilient to heat and, in the meantime, have a very well-practised regimen to protect our cows from heat stress.

We are growing different pasture species like cocksfoot, tall fescue and prairie grass with deep root systems to tap into subsoil moisture. Planting at least 1000 trees per year creates micro climates that shelter both our animals and our pastures.

All of this makes practical, business sense and it also helps me feel better about our children’s futures. We are doing something!

That’s why I agreed to talk to The Age for this article and why we were happy to be featured in the Earth Hour cookbook.
It’s thrilling to see the great stuff farmers across Australia are doing in response to climate change. Now, if we can communicate that to foodies and the animal welfare movement, just imagine the possibilities.

The Earth Hour cook book makes climate change matter to foodies

The Earth Hour cook book makes climate change matter to foodies

8 thoughts on “What climate change means at farm level

  1. Marian, great to see you in the mainstream press. Discussion on climate change is usually dominated by the political argy-bargy of renewable targets, rebates and oneupmanship with other countries but your actions show that looking at our own ecological footprint is important and that change is achievable.

    I am not a farmer but I have seen changes in the construction industry in relation to times of work, heat and sun exposure as well as the rescheduling of programs to allow for extreme temperatures.

    Perhaps a collection of these small, localised but important examples of change would show that we are adapting to climate change (we now have no choice) even if our political leaders are looking elsewhere.


    • Oh yes, I feel the same way, Kevin.

      It’s a shame the discussion so often gets derailed by politics.

      This is an issue that is so much bigger than that and one we can’t afford to leave to party politicking.


  2. Fantastic article Marian thanks. I’ll definitely have to get that book.

    How you discuss climate change is really important and you see most of the climate science communicators have moved away from trying to explain ‘the facts’ to instead providing real life examples and experience (for the reasons Kevin Jones mentions above). It’s a bit weighty but the table on Page 16 of the attached report shows this. And it is exactly what you are doing here and why farmers like you are so important.

    Click to access CREDguide_full-res.pdf


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