Hard to Swallow: How Climate Change is Affecting Australian Food

06.10.15 By
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THE price, quality and seasonality of Australia’s food is increasingly being affected by climate change with Australia’s future food security under threat, a ground-breaking report by the Climate Council has revealed.

Australia’s food supply chain is highly exposed to disruption from increasing extreme weather events driven by climate change with farmers already struggling to cope with more frequent and intense droughts and changing weather patterns, the Feeding a Hungry Nation: Climate Change, Food and Farming in Australia report found.

The Climate Council’s Professor Lesley Hughes said Australia’s agricultural competitiveness in many agricultural markets will be challenged by the warming climate and changing weather patterns.

“Australia is one of the most vulnerable developed countries in the world to climate change impacts,” she said.

“This is already posing very significant challenges to food production. Food prices will continue to go up, the quality of food could be compromised and the seasonality of food could change as the climate continues to warm and weather patterns become more unpredictable.

“Many of our favourite foods, including milk, fruit, vegetables, wine and beef are already being affected by climate change and these impacts will grow as weather extremes get worse.”

The report also found:

“All animals struggle during heatwaves and dairy cows are particularly vulnerable. It’s not unusual for their milk production to drop overnight by up to 40%,” Illawarra dairy farmer Lynne Strong said.

“We’ve taken lots of small steps on our farm, including putting in thousands of shade trees and installing sprinklers in the dairy, to protect the cows during these extreme weather events. However, if they continue to increase the only option for many dairy farmers will be to house their cows in air conditioned sheds. If this happens, milk may become a luxury item.

“Farmers can play a really important role in delivering climate change solutions through producing their own renewable energy and implementing sustainable farming systems that increase carbon storage in vegetation and soils.

“But we can’t fight climate change alone. We need to be backed by greater action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions if we’re to protect both the livelihood of farmers and the integrity of Australia’s food supply.”

Professor Tim Flannery said there was no room for complacency in planning for our future food security.

“Large parts of Australia are currently in drought including a record 80 per cent of Queensland,” he said.

“We are watching the realities of a warming world unfold before our eyes and the impacts on everyday Australian households as food prices and food availability become more volatile and affect the economies and social fabric of those communities that rely on agricultural production.

“Australian farmers have demonstrated great resilience in the face of harsh physical and social challenges. But if the present rate of climate change continues, there will be many challenges to which adaptation is simply not possible.

“We must urgently transition to a new low carbon economy if we are to adequately safeguard our food supply.”

The Climate Council is an independent, crowd-funded organisation providing quality information to climate change to the Australian public.

Media: Contact Senior Media Advisor Sarah Thompson on 0420 892 450 or sarah@climatemediacentre.org.au


Food Impact
Bread The main ingredient in most bread is wheat, which is a part of the grain industry.

Wheat crops in southern Australia rely on winter-spring rainfall patterns that are already declining. Reduced rainfall in core cereal regions such as south-west WA and Victoria are also having negative impacts on yields

Australia could become a net importer of wheat in future decades, which could drive up the price of bread.

There are typically less than five days supply of perishable food (including bread) in most Australian households. Such low reserves are extremely vulnerable to natural disasters and disruption to transport from extreme weather. During the 2011 Queensland floods, several towns such as Rockhampton were cut off for two weeks, and Brisbane came within a day of running out of bread.

Steak Pasture-growing seasons for beef will reduce, leading to lower and more variable animal stocking rates and increased reliance on supplementary grain feeding, all of which would affect the price of steak.

Increased heat stress is already leading to the choice of more heat-tolerant cattle breeds of lower meat quality.

Milk Heat stress reduces milk yield by 10-25%, and by up to 40% in extreme heatwave conditions. These impacts can last for a considerable period after extreme events, affecting supply.
Wine Up to 70% of Australia’s wine-growing regions with a Mediterranean climate will be less suitable for grape growing by 2050. Major transformations are needed to ensure grape growing continues to be viable.

Iconic grape-growing regions such as Margaret River (WA), the Barossa and Riverland (SA), Sunraysia (VIC) and the Riverina (NSW) will be the most affected by higher temperatures and lower rainfall, especially for red varieties such as Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot;

The effects of warmer temperatures include shortening of the growing season and decline in grape quality.

Commercial winemakers from the mainland are already responding to the warming climate by securing both fruit contracts and vineyards in Tasmania.