“Australians won’t like having to pay more for meat and dairy.”
That’s the blunt acknowledgment made by Professor Stephen Bartos from the University of Canberra who has analysed how changing weather patterns are set to interrupt our food supply.
With farmers forced to combat the country’s increasingly unstable weather, the cost of raising animals for your plate is set to increase.
It’s estimated we’ll temporarily reach 1.5 degrees before the end of 2027. After analysing globally recognised IPCC data, Professor Bartos believes the red meat industry could be hit with 10 per cent in extra costs if we warm to 2 degrees.
If temperatures continue to warm beyond 3 degrees this century then be prepared for worse impacts than higher prices. The food shortages experienced during the coronavirus pandemic will likely pale in comparison to those we could face because of extreme weather.
“There’s the possibility that once we warm over three degrees that the beef industry could be severely affected. It could even become unviable,” Professor Bartos said. “If that was the case we’re talking about the loss of a $14 billion industry in Australia.”
Why Australia is in a lucky position
If we only rise to 2 degrees, Professor Bartos notes a consolation is that as a rich nation, Australia will ultimately be able to absorb the increased cost of climate change.
“Whereas in a lot of countries of the world, people actually don't have that luxury," he said. "One of the disturbing things about these impacts is they disproportionately affect poorer countries which can't afford to spend money on adaptation.
How will fossil fuels affect our beef farmers?
Because farmers are highly dependent on weather to produce the food we eat, changing weather patterns will result in more uncertainty.
Our red meat supply will likely be interrupted by these factors:
Feed quality and availability.
Drying up water supplies.
Heat stress in cattle.
Spreading of tropical parasites.
Higher energy and insurance costs.
Australia’s governments commit to fossil fuels
Australia’s cattle industry is working to reduce its methane emissions and hopes to be carbon neutral by 2030 thanks to $120 million of investment managed by peak body Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA).
This alone won’t be enough to slow heating of the planet, because while methane is a major contributor, the key driver of the climate crisis is the burning of fossil fuels.
While the United Nations has warned the world must stop opening coal and gas mines, governments across Australia are embracing new projects that could contribute to destabilising the planet.
Are we doing anything to help farmers?
MLA concedes climate change could potentially create new costs for farmers, so it's working to better understand how producers can mitigate its impact. To help protect the industry MLA is researching:
More resilient pastures that stand up to unpredictable weather
Genetic traits that improve efficiency including ease of calving and feed conversion.\
Ensuring each region has the correct herd breed for local conditions
MLA’s Julia Waite told Yahoo climate change won’t affect all areas of Australia uniformly. But she predicts if farmers want to reduce risk they could opt to keep their animals in the paddock for less time to reduce the impact of unpredictable events.
Research will be crucial in mitigating impact. One recent discovery is that strategically planted trees are more crucial for protecting livestock from adverse weather than man-made structures, particularly when it comes to lambs. In their case, eucalyptus plantations increased survival from 66 per cent to 82 per cent.
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