Climate change focus
Like any industry that depends on natural resources, the Australian grains industry is exposed to the environmental and economic effects of climate change. Recognising the need for an informed and coordinated response, the GRDC applies a climate change strategy across its four lines of business.
The GRDC invests in R&D:
- to better understand how natural resource management may help the grains industry to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
- to identify options and develop technology to assist the industry to adapt to climate change and variability.
This work is translated into awareness raising and practical resources to help grain growers respond to climate change effects in the short, medium and long terms.
Nitrous oxide emissions
The Nitrous Oxide Research Program has a network of automated greenhouse gas measuring systems situated in all major agroclimatic zones and farming systems in Australia. It is the most comprehensive agricultural nitrous oxide monitoring network in the world.
Data collected in 2010–11 show that nitrous oxide emissions from agricultural soils vary from less than 0.03 kilograms of nitrogen per hectare per day in coarse-textured soils in Western Australia to 1.00 kilogram of nitrogen per hectare per day in the high-rainfall soils of south-eastern Victoria. The magnitude of emissions is related to rainfall and to the production of biomass (which provides the decomposable carbon source to fuel the denitrification process).
Nitrous oxide emissions from soils during the growth of three different crop legumes (chickpeas, faba beans and field peas) in the medium-rainfall northern grain-growing zones were found to be very low, and all were significantly less than the emissions from canola treated with urea fertiliser.
At the program’s site at Tamworth, New South Wales, based on nearly two years of continuous measurement in four cropping rotations, a fourfold difference was observed in the cumulative nitrous oxide emissions between the rotation with no added nitrogen and the rotation with high nitrogen inputs (as shown in Figure 10). Heavy rainfall immediately after both wheat and sorghum sowing events led to significant nitrous oxide emissions in crops treated with nitrogen (applied as urea).
Figure 10 Cumulative nitrous oxide emissions from crop rotation treatments at Tamworth, New South Wales, plotted against daily rainfall
Soil carbon sequestration
A partnership between the GRDC, CSIRO, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, state government departments and universities, the Soil Carbon Research Program aims to quantify the soil carbon stocks that exist under various management practices across Australia’s agricultural regions.
Since it commenced, in April 2009, the program has collected 15,272 soil samples. The samples are being used to provide a snapshot of the current stock of soil organic carbon in cropping soils across Australia.
In 2010–11, the program also evaluated the NDM (gamma-neutron density meter), a more efficient and effective way of measuring the bulk density of soil. Determining the bulk density is essential for calculating the soil organic carbon stock number required in carbon-trading schemes. The NDM can measure bulk density quickly, without the need to take samples.
Managing Climate Variability
The Managing Climate Variability program is now in its third five-year phase. The program aims to help farmers to manage risk and make business decisions using reliable climate forecasts, tools to translate the forecasts into applications, and the necessary knowledge to use these resources effectively.
In 2010–11, the program invested in research to:
- assess and manage heat stress in cereals
- understand frost risk
- model the links between climate drivers and regional climate
- improve weather forecast accuracy, particularly for multiweek forecasting
- model the impact of temperature extremes in Western Australia.
A manual chamber for measuring nitrous oxide emissions. Photo: Sally Officer, DPI Vic
To help farmers adapt to and mitigate climate change effects, the National Adaptation and Mitigation Initiative is demonstrating technology and knowledge on farm, at 25 demonstration sites across northern, southern and western Australia.
The initiative is engaging with farmer groups and researchers to demonstrate established techniques and new research outcomes. The on-ground demonstrations give farmers and advisers direct access to locally relevant information which will help them to maintain or enhance the viability of their farms.
The Climate Kelpie website is a ‘one-stop shop’ for climate risk management information and tools. It provides links to the best available tools and information about climate, helping farmers and advisers to make farm business decisions.
The website’s content is sourced from the Bureau of Meteorology and the Managing Climate Variability program. To locate relevant information quickly, farmers can filter the content by selecting their region and their commodity from a map or a list.
In the six months to 30 June 2011, 5,384 visitors looked at 13,725 pages on Climate Kelpie.
Through the Managing Climate Variability program, 21 grain growers, representing Queensland, Western Australia, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, have been selected as Climate Champions.
These growers are keen to understand how increased climate variability will play out in their regions, and how they can adapt to the changes while continuing to run a sustainable and financially viable farm business. The Climate Champions program gives them the opportunity to assess new tools, information and management practices coming out of climate-related research, and to influence the research while it is still underway.
As Climate Champions, they share their new knowledge and their on-farm experiences with their peers, and provide feedback about the concerns and needs of grain growers to the GRDC.