Climate policy void defies grim forecasts

Climate policy void defies grim forecasts


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FARMERS and researchers are burning up over inadequate climate policy that is at odds with productivity forecasts from Treasury.

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FARMERS and researchers are burning up over inadequate climate policy that is at odds with productivity forecasts from Treasury.

The state budget paints a bleak picture for NSW agricultural output across the next four years, with crop production and rural commodity exports tipped to stagnate as the El Nino phase sets in.

Treasury issued a troubling warning that the risk of higher-than-average heat and lower-than-average rainfall could see the projections fall further than expected, all the while academics and primary producers cry out for meaningful policy on climate resilience.

Climate expert Dr Andrew Rawson, an adjunct associate professor at Charles Sturt University, said the lack of action stemmed from an ideological stubbornness to address climate change and its potential effect on the land.

Dr Rawson highlighted state government's 2014 Agriculture Industry Action Plan and the recently-released federal Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper as aspiration-heavy statements but light on tangible climate outcomes.

"In the agriculture sector, there is, harshly, less preparedness (for climate change) than there should be," he said.

"That's because of a blinkered view - not necessarily by the farmers - but certainly the political environment that is driving it.

Government is saying (climate change) is part of a long-term cycle, when nothing could be further from the truth.

"Does there need to be more research and development (R&D) into (productivity and climate change)? Yes, but it's not the main game.

"The main issue is policy - and it is hard to comment on policy, because there is nothing there."

In 2013 the NSW Office of the Environment set up the Adaptation Research Hub through Adapt NSW "to deliver research outcomes that are tied to policy and operational priorities".

The initiative, which expires in September 2016, was allocated $3.1m across three research nodes, only one of which focused on how communities can adapt to climate change.

A department spokesman said the hub had delivered several successful outputs to scientific understanding of climate change - though none were specifically targeted at agricultural productivity or on-farm resilience.

The spokesman also said it would be left to "local decision makers" to decide the best course of action to minimise potential risks of climate change and develop adaptation responses.

UTS academic Dr Brent Jacobs, a research director with the Institute for Sustainable Futures, and leader of the Adaptation Research Hub's adaptive communities node, said he hoped there would be a shift towards more adaptation resources over time.

He also said farmers felt they were missing local support from a decline in regional-focused research and the dismantling of local extension services.

"People are looking for that (non-commercial) advice, and there aren't many people doing that at the moment," Dr Jacobs said.

NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham said the 2015-16 budget data backed up what farmers were already experiencing - a hotter, drier and more unpredictable Australian climate that was making life on the land even tougher.

"There is a foolish lack of focus on research into adaptation and resilience for Australian agriculture in a changing climate," Mr Buckingham said.

"Farmers want action on climate change because they are running a business and cannot ignore the impacts it will have on their future productivity.

"For the past 20 years public investment in agricultural research, development and agricultural support has been declining. We must reverse this trend."

NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair said the government recognised R&D was key to the growth and sustainability of the primary industries sector.

He pointed to the department's research portfolio of more than 1000 active projects, worth $100 million, which included breeding drought-tolerant crops and pasture, improving water-use efficiency, and evaluating new plant varieties to cope with a more variable climate.

Mr Blair also said the government's $300 million NSW Drought Strategy was helping to build resilience as farmers upgraded infrastructure to better manage the risk of drought.

The story Climate policy void defies grim forecasts first appeared on Farm Online.

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