Monday, 20 March 2017

Climate change, farming, food & families in Australia

“The price, quality and seasonality of Australia’s food is increasingly being affected by climate change with Australia’s future food security under threat….

Australia’s food supply chain is highly exposed to disruption from increasing extreme weather events driven by climate change, with farmers already struggling to cope with more frequent and intense droughts and changing weather patterns.” [Climate Council, October 2015]

It used to be said of Australian families that generally they were only one generation away from the farm and it used to be noted that in the suburbs spreading out from major metropolitan areas in the 1950s and 60s these families lived in relatively small houses on quarter acre lots.

Families then were still close enough to the means of food production to understand the importance of both climate and weather and often supplemented the family diet with chooks in the backyard, along with a couple of fruit trees and a vegie patch. In outer metropolitan and regional areas there was often a rain water tank attached to the house long after town water became available.

Go look in your back yard now. What do you see?

Then have a think about this…….

Australia is one of only a handful of countries that produces more food than it consumes and most Australians have access to an abundant and safe food supply. But Australia is also considered one of the most vulnerable developed countries in the world to impacts of the changing climate. Rising temperatures, increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, and declining water availability in some of our most important agricultural regions pose significant risks for the nature, distribution, quality, and affordability of our food supply. At the same time, the Australian and global population continues to grow, competition for arable land continues to intensify, and our natural resource base continues to degrade, placing ever-increasing demands on food production systems.

Up to 70% of Australia’s wine-growing regions with a Mediterranean climate (including iconic areas like the Barossa Valley and Margaret River) will be less suitable for grape growing by 2050. Higher temperatures will continue to cause earlier ripening and reduced grape quality, as well as encourage expansion to new areas, including some regions of Tasmania.

Many foods produced by plants growing at elevated CO2 have reduced protein and mineral concentrations, reducing their nutritional value…..

Australia is projected to be one of the most adversely affected regions from future changes in climate in terms of reductions in agricultural production and exports.

Climate impacts on agricultural production in other countries will affect our competitiveness, especially if warmer and wetter conditions elsewhere boost production of key products such as beef and lamb.

This report noted:

Ø    Harsher climate conditions will increase use of more heat-tolerant breeds in beef production, some of which have lower meat quality and reproductive rates.

Ø    Heat stress reduces milk yield by 10-25% and up to 40% in extreme heatwave conditions.

Ø    The yields of many important crop species such as wheat, rice and maize are reduced at temperatures more than 30°C.

Ø   Climate change is increasing the variability of crop yields.

Ø    Food prices during the 2005- 2007 drought increased at twice the rate of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) with fresh fruit and vegetables the worst hit, increasing 43% and 33% respectively.

Ø   Cyclone Larry destroyed 90% of the North Queensland banana crop in 2006, affecting supply for nine months and increasing prices by 500%.

Ø   The 2009 heatwave in Victoria decimated fruit crops, with significant production losses of berry and other fruit crops.

Ø   There is typically less than 30 days supply of non-perishable food and less than five days supply of perishable food in the supply chain at any one time. Households generally hold only about a 3-5 day supply of food. Such low reserves are vulnerable to natural disasters and disruption to transport from extreme weather.

Ø    During the 2011 Queensland floods, several towns such as Rockhampton were cut off for up to two weeks, preventing food resupply. Brisbane came within a day of running out of bread.

Perhaps it’s time to pick up the phone and call your local state and federal members of parliament to ask them what they and their political party are actually doing - by way of implemented policies and/or legislation - to protect your family’s food and water security now that climate change is a fact of life.

* The Climate Council is an independent non-profit organisation funded by donations by the public. 

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