From the Experts

Global view to a changing local climate

By Wayne Johnston

FOR MANY years now we have been all too aware that there is a finite supply of farmland, but it turns out we were not quite right.

NASA, along with other joint partners, has just completed a survey of the farm land available on a global scale.

Much to everybody’s surprise it indicated that there is more agricultural land under production in the world than previously thought — 15 to 20 per cent more in fact.

The report shows that global crop land now totals 4.6 billion acres, with India believed to have the biggest acreage of any country.

The survey answers the question of how much land we use for agriculture and, just as importantly, where.

This will help in determining strategies around things like water and soil to ensure future sustainability into the future.

This new information will be a valuable tool as we face the challenges of producing more food for an ever-increasing world population.

The other key element of this finding will be to assist us to address the effects of climate change.

Much of this land is situated in regions of the world where even minor changes to climactic conditions will have a significant impact on agriculture.

Here in Tasmania we are blessed with some of the best farm land in the world.

As I have said before, at some point we are going to have to recognise the need to access reserves to build on our current production capacity.

While I understand that some find this confronting, the reality is, without it food production will simply not keep pace.

But such changes however cannot be done on an ad hoc basis.

Tasmania is now seeing the effects of changing climactic conditions, so we will need to take on board the CSIROs modelling as it relates to the state.

For example, there will be no point in accessing land that is subject to unreliable rainfall. Any changes will need to be done based on climate predictions.

All indications are that over the coming decade Tasmania will see significant changes in weather patterns, resulting in some parts of the state receiving more rainfall than they currently do and others suffering rainfall deficits.

To some extent we are seeing it this year, with the northern parts of the state having a reasonably good season, while the east coast and many parts in the south are near drought conditions.

From a state perspective we are much better placed than we were in 2015, but our thoughts must go to our southern and east coast colleagues who are already doing it tough this early in the season.

Forecasts are contradictory, with some suggestion that La Nina will occur later in the season, but it will be short lived and weak.

This could translate into little rainfall.

No matter what way you look at it, clearly Tasmanian farmers are going to be called on to adapt to an ever-changing environment.

• Wayne Johnston is the President of the Tasmania Farmers and Graziers Association.