The CSIRO and farming in a changing climate

This is one of the worst seasons on record around here and the only thing that has made it survivable has been good, early planning.

We sold 10 per cent of our cows and planted our summer turnips in the second week of Spring to give them a chance of survival. We pushed bloody hard to get an irrigator up and running so we could create a lush oasis of millet with water from our farm dam.


Most importantly, we were quick to speak with our bank manager and buy hundreds of tonnes of extra hay and silage. It was not a pretty plan. It was a survival plan in the teeth of a failed season and a milk price that is below our break even point.

We are still a long way from next Spring but the survival plan is getting us through. I can’t imagine how we would have managed without it.

Central to our planning were the CSIRO’s soil moisture maps and Pastures from Space. Combining the two tools, we could see that not only were our pastures not growing in the peak of Spring, there was little chance they could. The soil was powder dry all the way down to a couple of metres. That can only be fixed by weeks and weeks of rain.


In other words, we knew we were stuffed early enough to do something about it, thanks to the CSIRO. It’s survivable if we plan early, plan well and it doesn’t happen too regularly.

Still raw with the discomfort of this experience, I was gobsmacked to hear the CSIRO’s chief executive tell the ABC’s 7.30 Report that the climate change question has been answered.

The big question still remains for this farmer: how common will this type of season be in the future? The climate modelling is just not detailed or accurate enough. All we know is that it will be drier, warmer and more unpredictable than ever. And that’s nowhere near enough information to make good decisions.

To be frank, we don’t even have a worthwhile forecast for the next fortnight or the three months ahead. The Bureau of Meteorology’s oft-reported seasonal outlook is so unreliable here, it is literally the equivalent of tossing a coin – by the Bureau’s own admission.

We need more climate information, not less. If this type of season begins to roll around every five to 10 years rather than every 20 to 50, it’s no longer going to be viable to keep doing what we’re doing.

Farmers are innovators by nature. Rather than simply howling to the wind when it’s all too late, I will do something about it. What, for sure, I don’t know. Cuts to the CSIRO’s climate and land and water divisions will make finding the answers ever more difficult.





9 thoughts on “The CSIRO and farming in a changing climate

  1. It’s a grim blog this time, one I understand as I live in the same area, and whilst I don’t understand farming, I will do all I can to support our vital local farmers and encourage others to do the same Marian. Thank you for what you do – where would we all be without our farmers of every persuasion?


  2. I love it, not, when the BOM tells us the rain outlook for the next 3 months, followed by a “our rainfall outlook has a low-moderate level of accuracy at this time of year”. Least they are honest I guess, but you have to wonder what is the point of the forecast to start with.


    • I agree, Country Mum. It’s especially strange when there’s a forecast that is less than 50% reliable.
      I think that means they’re more likely to be wrong than right, so we should take the opposite of their advice. But what if they’ve already taken that into account…confusing?!


  3. Pingback: Climate science staff cuts #CSIROcuts labelled as science vandalism reports @takvera

  4. I am as pro climate change as you can get. I used to Chair the Climate Variability in Agriculture program – a JV between a myriad of R&D Corps. However, if you sit in the CSIRO you will be faced with a series of challenges where they can make a significant difference to Australian society. One of them is climate. Now it is more about interpreting the forecasts than the forecasts themselves. The big science questions are about transitioning our economy from fossil fuels to renewables. I would love to see serious innovation that comes from great science in that field. If I was in the CSIRO’s position, I would want to be a big part of that future.


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