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Five reasons why it is difficult to talk to Australian farmers about the impacts of, and their adaptation to, climate change

Abstract

Some recent funding programmes in Australia on climate adaptation have expected active engagement with farmers in research projects. Based on our direct experience with 30 farmers and their advisors, we list five reasons why it is difficult to gain traction with farmers in discussing the likely impacts of climate change on their farms and the possible adaptation options they should be considering in preparation for a future changed climate. The reasons concern the slow and uncertain trajectory for changes in climate relative to the time horizon for farm decision-making, when set against short-term fluctuations in weather, prices, costs and government policy. Farmers have optimism for ongoing technological progress keeping abreast of any negative impacts of climate on their production. As one moves from incremental to transformational adaptation options, biophysical research has less to offer because decisions become based more on business structure, portfolio management, off-farm investments and geographical diversification. Some farmers also doubt the intentions of climate change researchers and are wary of anything they may have to offer. We propose there is an actionable decision space where agricultural science and economics can contribute to meaningful analysis of impacts and adaptation to climate change by farmers. This will involve emphasising the principles of farm management rather than defining optimal farm plans; the use of scenario planning to explore possible futures in a turbulent environment for farming; a focus on short-term adjustments as a path to longer term adaptation; re-gaining the trust of some farmers towards climate change scientists through better communication strategies; and understanding the linkages between adaptation options and enabling factors and technologies.

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Acknowledgments

While many of the ideas contained in this paper have been informed by thoughtful discussions with farmers, consultants and researchers, we take full responsibility for the views expressed here. This work was funded by CSIRO, Curtin University and the Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry through its Australia’s Farming Future: Climate Change Research Programme.

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Correspondence to Michael Robertson.

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Editor: James D. Ford.

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Robertson, M., Murray-Prior, R. Five reasons why it is difficult to talk to Australian farmers about the impacts of, and their adaptation to, climate change. Reg Environ Change 16, 189–198 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-014-0743-4

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Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Agriculture
  • Australia
  • Adaptation
  • Rainfall
  • Cropping
  • Livestock