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ARTICLES >> Environment Articles

Climate Control

Posted by Bestprac on Jan 23 2012

by Liz Guerin

Anyone who works on the land will tell you that they are at the mercy of climate.

Key Points

  • Get to know the climate drivers via the BOM website and other sites
  • Set up a favourites folder so that useful sites are quick to access
  • Get a consensus of many forecast models
  • Be mindful of what is happening on your own patch
  • Climate data should be just one tool in your tool box


Anyone who works on the land will tell you that they are at the mercy of climate. Rain, no rain or rain at the wrong time can equate to a big difference between profit, break even or loss.

Flinders Ranges farmer and pastoralist Susan Carn and family have been able to manage risk associated with cropping and grazing enterprises by climate monitoring.

Mrs Carn says that climate monitoring is one of the many tools they use in their decision making and it is one that has paid dividends.

The Carn’s estimate that, in 2006, not using climate data cost them $50,000 in inputs as that was the year they consider they probably shouldn’t have sown any crop at all. Last year they made money by sowing less, and being prepared for a wet harvest.

“Climate is becoming more variable and we have to make decisions year by year on its merits”, she said. “These days we plan for every possible outcome and expect the unexpected.”

Susan’s interest in climate and weather forecasts started in 2004 when she noticed that their seasons were changing and she wanted to find why.

“I did some climate-risk courses through the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) and I started attending any seminar on climate that I could”, she said.

Keen to learn more, Susan used the internet to research climate drivers and weather tracking. Over time she has developed a favourites folder of the most useful sites, making it easier to watch certain drivers at the relevant times of year.

Susan monitors the SOI (Southern Oscillation Index) and the IOD (Indian Ocean Dipole) via graphs, as well as watching movements of potentially rain blocking high pressure systems via synoptic charts.

Susan enjoys sharing her interest in climate with others. “We are involved in the Bestprac farming group and I write a column called ‘Weather Watch’ for the Bestprac eNews. It provides a summary of what is happening weather-wise in my region, but the techniques are easily transferrable to any property”, Susan said.

Last year she became a participant in the Climate Champion program and is helping other farmers understand climate and how they can adapt to climate variability on their own properties.

As the Carn’s are in a marginal cropping area, Susan looks at a variety of seasonal forecasts every month to get a consensus of what they are saying. Last year, in March, forecasts for April, May and June were looking OK and indicating that rainfall for the remainder of the year was going to be above average.

“That early prediction sounded good and in our pre – climate monitoring days, we might have sown all our arable country. However, as there wasn’t much subsoil moisture and an update in April was indicating that there was going to be a dry spell in winter with a wet period over harvest, we decided that we would conservatively sow”, Susan said. “We didn’t go overboard sowing, as we’d had a wet harvest in 1992 and 1993 and it was not fun and certainly not profitable trying to get rid of downgraded grain.”

Susan said that the hint of a dry spell proved correct, resulting in very little rain in July. However, a very strong La Nina had kicked in and so by October, the Carn’s were pondering harvest conditions, as climate drivers and indicators were saying that it was going to be wet. Working on this premise, the Carn’s purchased a second-hand header from a neighbour in order to be able to harvest quickly.

“As it turned out, harvest was wet, but we managed to get on and dodge the rain, resulting in very little downgraded grain”, Susan said.

The true dollar value of using climate data in decision making for the Carn’s is difficult to accurately assess, as the benefits are two-fold.

“In 2006, when we weren’t using climate data, we effectively lost $50,000 in inputs, as that was the year we probably shouldn’t have sown anything at all. Last year we made money by sowing less, and less definitely equalled more, as we didn’t have the downgraded grain”, Susan said.

The climate outlook also has a major impact on the decisions the Carn’s make regarding stock –not only from an economic but also from a ‘landcare’ point of view.
“If the year looks like it is not going to pan out for having good winter or spring rains, we assess our stock numbers early and sell off stock”, Susan said. “It also helps us to decide early whether to buy sell or feedlot, so that we are looking after our land and not overgrazing. It also gives us a ‘heads-up’ for flystrike – so if the forecast is for warm wet conditions we know we might be in for trouble.”

In addition, the Carn’s alter their time of lambing according to climate predictions, and last year mated early to take advantage of autumn feed, as the predictions were that the La Nina was to last until the end of autumn and winter rains were proving unreliable. Susan says this was a great success.

“At the Paskeville Field Days this year, I spoke to Darren Ray, from the Bureau of Meteorology, who thought next year could be similar – so we are putting the rams in early again.”

But ultimately, Susan says that you cannot put a dollar value on peace of mind.

“I find that by having an understanding of the drivers of climate, I can mentally prepare for a bad year, make informed decisions and put some plans in place”, she said.
 

Last changed: Jan 23 2012

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