Dairy farmers in north east Victoria are leading an industry response to climate change, identifying changing rainfall patterns; increased temperatures; availability of water; weather extremes; and access to health services as challenges and/or opportunities for the next decade.
The North East Dairy Climate Futures Project invited dairy farmers to have a say about their own businesses in response to data released by the CSIRO in 2020 that supported predicted climate change impacts across the valleys of north east Victoria.
At a series of workshops across the region earlier this year, dairy farmers embraced the opportunity to identify what should be the focus for their industry.
North East dairy farmer and Alpine Valleys Dairy Inc chair, Patrick Glass said there had been a high level of participation at the workshop and the key priorities for the industry had come from the farmers themselves, not from consultants.
“The voice of farmers has not been diluted in any way in this final report,” Mr Glass said.
“It’s now up to the farmers themselves to drive this and demand some answers or ensure more questions are asked.
“We don’t want this to be a document to sit on the shelf because we will be the ones impacted by these changes.”
Project convenor on behalf of Alpine Valleys Dairy Inc, Patten Bridge, said through their participation in project workshops, north east Victoria dairy farmers had sent a clear message they wanted to be on the front foot around the challenges and opportunities presented by the changing climate, as well as be part of developing relevant solutions.
The project’s final report recommends Alpine Valleys Dairy Inc., set up by dairy farmers to maximise opportunities for the region’s dairy industry, should ensure responsibility for climate change adaptation actions is shared among relevant shareholders; regularly communicate progress regarding climate change adaptation activity and outcomes to dairy communities; and ensure younger farmers have a strong ownership of the overall climate adaptation strategy and outcomes.
The report recommends 10 farmer-driven industry projects related to the five challenges and opportunities identified:
- Optimising changing climate conditions with appropriate fodder species and feed management;
- Building soil organic matter and improved productive performance;
- Determining the best and most cost effective way to create more tree cover to shade dairy herds;
- Developing a guide for building shade management infrastructure on dairy farms;
- Developing a water map that includes predicted runoff declines, mapping of groundwater, springs and unregulated streams and trading rules;
- Improving irrigation water management;
- Farm risk management decision making – investing in drought preparedness;
- Extreme weather preparedness;
- Improving health/mental health services support at a local level; and
- Understanding community resilience among farming communities.
Mr Bridge said the industry projects covered the main commercial imperative for dairy farmers seeking to create profitable and sustainable businesses.
“The breadth of projects underlines there is no one strategy or answer which will cover the adaptation requirements for the region,” he said.
“There is, however, a clear emphasis on supporting good decision-making and particularly the challenges of risk assessment in the context of longer-term time horizons.”
Mr Glass said it would be the responsibility of dairy farmers, particularly those coming into the industry, to drive the project’s recommendations.
“It will be critical that this project remains a conduit for the farmer’s voice,” Mr Glass said.
“Farmers are not always listened to and too often reform is top-down driven. We need to ensure these questions are answered and the responses reflect what farmers need.”
Mr Bridge said the nominated projects should be a catalyst for partnerships between local dairy farmers and key stakeholders about how these farmer priorities might be addressed. They include North East Catchment Management Authority (CMA), Albury Wodonga Health, local government, Murray Dairy, AgBiz Assist, Goulburn-Murray Water, local tertiary institutions, other agricultural industries, Agriculture Victoria and commercial service providers.
“Hopefully this will lead to partnership projects which can draw on the strength, resources and expertise from a range of sources, who have a shared interest in improved outcomes,” he said.
“An immediate focus should be how to determine how a 10-year agenda is best tackled and how to develop the partnerships required to deliver the outcomes outlined in the report. Central to successful implementation of such a plan will be ensuring the farmer’s voice continues to be heard.”
The North East Dairy Climate Futures Project was supported by Alpine Valleys Dairy Inc., AgBiz Assist, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the North East Catchment Management Authority through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program and the Victorian Government’s Community Climate Change Adaptation (3CA) Grants Program.