Last week I appeared as a witness to the Inquiry into the impact of climate change on Queensland agricultural production where I had three minutes to sum up its relationship with horticulture. Here’s what I said.
The horticulture industry is one that dances the fine line between nature’s bounty and fury – a classic love/hate relationship.
Although rainfall and temperature data that spans generations currently informs growers business decisions, we have seen firsthand how these predictions are thrown out the window in the face of extreme weather events.
Last year, the Lockyer region experienced devastating floods that brought more rainfall in a week than was predicted for an entire year. Crops were lost on a massive scale. However, this year, the same region has seen a remarkable growing season, thanks to near-perfect weather conditions.
The irony lies in the fact that even in a year of abundant produce, prices drop due to market dynamics, causing growers to still struggle financially. It’s an unspoken truth that for growers to prosper, someone, somewhere else, must bear the brunt of unpredictable weather conditions. The financial toll and the resources required to respond to these events divert attention and resources away from proactive climate adaptation and mitigation strategies.
Growers who used to rely on having a ‘good year’ every three, are now reporting to this pushing out to every seven to 10.
It’s one thing to look at historical data, but it’s another to proactively use the available information for the future. We must prioritise the refinement and widespread utilisation of climate projection platforms and medium-term weather forecasts. Our own best management practice platform, Hort360, is currently undergoing significant review to incorporate climate data, emissions, and more.
A lack of financial resources is also another critical roadblock to implementing climate adaptation on farm. The Farm Business Resilience Planning program is making strides in building drought resilience, but it currently does not encompass much broader climate adaptation. This must change.
The unavailability or high cost of insurance coverage for risks beyond climate adaptation is also a major concern, as is lack of accessibility to farm management deposits due to low profitability and a consistent cash flow requirement, and the changing eligibility of disaster programs, that aren’t designed for horticulture.
With a surging corporate interest in climate adaptation within the agricultural supply chain, we are hugely concerned that costs associated with mitigation and adaptation have already been or are planned to be passed down to growers into the future. This calls for initiatives and research that engage all supply chain members to collectively address emerging climate risks.
Climate change and its impact on our industry are undeniable realities. It’s our collective responsibility to work through these challenges head-on, with a spirit of innovation, collaboration, and resilience to ensure sustainable profitability for Queensland’s fruit, vegetable, and nut growers.