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Climate Change Effects on Agriculture

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Published: Tue, 06 Jun 2017

Climate change is a change in average weather over certain periods of time. Issues about the climate change have been going on for quite some time now. The main issue is of course whether the Earth is experiencing climate change or not. The respond to this issue is surely positive although countless number of arguments is being highlighted regarding this issue. People usually confuse the climate change with the variations of weather that occurs constantly. This is wrong since the climate change is the change in average weather as being stated in the definition earlier. Climate change is also being observed for a certain period of time usually for a long time period ranges from decades to millions of years. Research that have been done and still going on about this issue offer a scientific assurance and great amount of data that supports the argument that the Earth is experiencing climate change. Various types of data like temperature variations, precipitation and wind patterns are used regarding this issue. These data record variations since they are affected by the dynamic processes on Earth such as instability of sunlight intensity and in recent times the human activities.

Climate change effect all sort of people around the world and but the main group of people that will be affected the most is the poor population of the world. This is based on the facts that they rely mostly on their natural resource base for instance agriculture, fisheries and tourism activities. These types of industries are known as the climate sensitive industries which contribute to a vital number of national gross domestic products (GDP) (11). Agriculture share in total GDP at world stage is approximately 13% in developing countries and 2% in developed countries (5).

Australia reliance on agricultural industry is quite significant although it is a developed country. The agriculture industry only contributes approximately 2% of the national GDP in Australia but around 66.7% of its products are being exported and this contributes approximately 18% of total Australian merchandise exports (8). Australian Government’s Department of Climate Change reports that the interdependence between agriculture and economy was observed during the terrible droughts in 2002 to 2003 where the gross value of agricultural production decreased by 19% (approximately $32 billion) which accounts for the reduced of GDP by 1% (1).

The relation between climate change and agriculture is a subjective matter and researches have been going on for quite some time now to find out what are the effects of climate change on agriculture and also the effects of agriculture on climate change. Most farmers are aware that they have to grow crops and rear animals depending on the local climate. This is important since the weather plays a very important role in determining the quantity and quality of the crops despite a lot of technological advances being introduced like genetically modified organisms, improved irrigation system and seed variation. This fact is being accentuated by Wall and Smit (2005) (4) who said that the main aspects in the success of agri-food sector are the weather and climate conditions. The climate impacts on agriculture are best being observed at local stage rather than at global stage because the impacts are more related to local climate.

A detailed insight on the interrelation between climate change and Australian agriculture will be provided in this paper. This is due to the fact that agriculture plays an important role in Australian economy and is at risk caused by the adverse effects of climate change. The projected changes of climate, effects of climate change on the Australian agriculture, effects of Australian agriculture on climate change, ways to lessen the effects by means of mitigation and adaptation will be discussed in detail later in this paper.

Australia is a big country and includes various types of climate. The temperature increase is difference from one region to another. In this case, the temperature average is taken into account where the estimated temperature increase is 1⁰C to 5⁰C in 2070 contrast to that in 1990 (CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), 2007, Table 1.0 in ABARE 200&) (8). In general, the coastal areas of Australia will experience smaller number of temperature increase compared to the inland area of Australia.

The changes in precipitation level are also being considered in order to observe the changes of climate. This type of change is less definite compared to the changes in temperature and the precipitation patterns are notably different at regional stage (IPCC 2007) (8). According to the modelling, the warming of Earth will anticipated to increase the precipitation level over Southern and Eastern Australia (7).

According to CSIRO and BoM (2007), Australia will be expecting 20% more drought months by 2030, by taking the drought months in 1990 as a comparison (8). This number will be increased by 2070 with 40% more drought months are expected in Eastern Australia while 80% more drought months in South Western Australia (8). There will be also an increase in the number of flood occurrence and soils erosion as a results of the high number of precipitation level and longer drought throughout Australia (CSIRO and BoM 2007) (8). According to Garnaut Climate Change Review, the number of days with extreme fire weather will be increase approximately 5% to 25% in 2013 (6).

Climate change can be both beneficial and detrimental to the agriculture industry. Which one plays the main role is still in question and arguments are still going on. The sure thing is that the climate change will certainly affect agriculture industry since this industry depends a lot on the climatic conditions. According to the Garnaut Climate Change Review, crop production is affected directly by the temperature changes, average rainfall rate changes, rainfall distribution over a year and rainfall variability (6). For example, temperature increase and rainfall decrease will results in the smaller amount of wheat yields and land values in all agricultural industries including crops, mixed and livestock by approximately 7% to 16% (10). Changes in the important climate variables in Australia are also results in the loss of agricultural production, decrease in crop yields, pasture growth and livestock production returns and increase in the cost of agricultural production (8).

Climate change can also be beneficial to the agricultural industry as being said earlier. The beneficial effect includes the increase rate of photosynthesis that leads to higher crop production in certain plants due to the increasing number of carbon dioxide emissions (6). This is supported by John Houghton, the author of the book titled “Global Warming” by saying that the carbon dioxide fertilisation effect will leads to higher productivity, C3 plants in particular (9). On the other hand, this relation is complex and could possibly be compensate by the temperature increase and decrease in the water availability (1).

Climate change effects on the agricultural are usually depends on the geographical aspect of an area and also the capability to adapt to them. According to a report, in mid to high latitude regions, moderate local temperature increase will results in small beneficial effects on crop yields, despite the fact that the same moderate local temperature increase will results in detrimental effects on yield crop (2). In a book titled “Global Warming” wrote by John Houghton, the writer states that “with detailed knowledge of the conditions required by different species and the expertise in breeding techniques and genetic manipulation available today, there should be little difficulty in matching crops to new climatic conditions over large parts of the world” (9). The statement is true but unfortunately it is only applicable to crops that take over a year or two to mature.

Agriculture itself has its own effect on the climate change. The main reason is because the massive emissions of greenhouse gases which is one of the contributors to global climate change. According to Australian Government’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF), the Australian agricultural sector is the second highest source for greenhouse gases behind the electricity production, with approximately 18% of the overall national emissions produce by on farm activities (3). The highest amount of emissions (12% of the national greenhouse gas emissions) is methane (CH4), a main greenhouse gas produce by livestock, followed by nitrous oxide (NO2) produce by fertilized soils that contributes 3% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, and the remaining amount is represented by carbon dioxide (CO2) (3). At world stage, Australia’s per capita emissions results from agriculture activities contributes to more than six times the world average, more than four times the average Organization for Economic CO-operation and Development (OECD) countries’ emissions and the third highest in OECD (6).

It is proven that the Australian agricultural activities are very much vulnerable to the effects of climate change and also the effects of Australian agriculture on global climate change. There are many ways to deal with these two problems. The best ways to deal with this situation are to mitigate to lessen the effects and also to adapt to the foreseeable changes.

The effects of agricultural activities on the climate change results in the establishment of international agreement, conventions and conferences as an effort to solve this problem. DAFF has prepared the Action Plan consists of a number of measures focussing on decreasing the CH4 and N2O emissions and discovering further prospect to encourage enhanced efficiency, understanding prospect to decrease the energy use in agriculture, promoting cost efficient alternatives to fossil fuels and developing biosequestration prospect in agriculture (6). Moreover, the emission trading scheme in Australian agriculture industry introduced by the government is also a way to decrease the adverse effects of climate change by making sure that farmers taking appropriate steps to reduce their carbon footprint and at the same increasing the net farm profits (8). Careful and principled approaches have to be taken to make sure that the design of the scheme does not create needless costs on the Australians (6).

Another method is adaptation. The definition of adaptation is a structure modified to fit a changed environment. In this case, the modification that can be done to face inescapable climate risks. ABARE (2007) reports that the adaptation in agriculture could incorporate altering the species planted to those with more suitable thermal time and vernalisation requirements and with enhanced resistance to heat, frosts or drought; altering application times and quantity of fertiliser or irrigated water to sustain quality and growth; altering pasture rotations and grazing times; and supplying additional feeding to livestock (8). Another step is to increase the efficiency of water delivery which helps in reducing the declines in supply of water for irrigated agriculture due to the climate change (6).

The climate change that strike the Earth which results in temperature and precipitation increase plus the greater rate of extreme weather events are understood to have significant effects both beneficial and detrimental on agricultural sector. On the contrary, agriculture industry also contributes to the climate change, mostly owing to the greenhouse gas emissions. Consequently, mitigation and adaptation approaches have to be taken in order to deal with this problem.


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