Climate Smart Agriculture: Getting started

Australian farmers are on the frontlines of climate change, with more frequent and extreme weather events. Floods, fires, heat waves and droughts are becoming par for the course.

Around the country, more and more farmers are seeing the changes and, with more to come, many people are trying to adapt. Community expectations, public policies, technology, and world markets are changing too, with the pressure on agriculture to reduce its carbon footprint while becoming more competitive. 

The pages here are intended to help get you started in climate-smart agriculture or CSA. 

How is climate-change impacting on agriculture?

The impact of climate change on agriculture goes beyond the direct effects of higher temperatures and changes in rainfall. Consider: 

  • Changes in pest, weed and disease risk, as well as changes in pollinators and other beneficial organisms
  • The availability and cost of inputs (e.g. water, feed, labour, etc.). 
  • The impact of elevated CO2 levels on crop/pasture growth and quality. Note that more CO2 may boost plant growth its effects on  quality may not always be beneficial. This 2017 article in the Conversation tackles this issue.
  • The effects of extreme events, such as intense downpours and drought, on soil health
  • The likely increase in variability between years and how this might affect long-term planning. 
  • Increased risk of fire weather, including a longer fire season. 
  • The risk that tropical cyclones may become more intense, particularly in northern Australia. 
  • The risk of heat stress on people and livestock
  • Surprises, like increased frost risk—rising in some areas.

What is climate-smart agriculture?

Put simply, CSA is any kind of primary production that maintains or improves farm performance (productivity), adapts and builds resilience to a changing climate (adaptation), and takes responsibility for agriculture’s contribution to climate change (mitigation).

There is no one-way of doing climate-smart agriculture - the advice here is sourced from the best available research but we’re all learning by doing and this guide is not intended to be prescriptive or exhaustive. Importantly, every farm and region is unique; what works in one place may not in another, so it’s important to tailor these strategies to your farm. 

Climate-smart agriculture emphasises home-grown solutions, ideally based on collaboration between farmers and scientists. Already, though, there are plenty of opportunities to adapt to climate change and reduce your farm’s emissions. 

Carefully done, climate-smart agriculture strategies can deliver business benefits, including efficiency dividends. Often, they equate to best practice and hence can help to: reduce regulatory and reputation risks; maintain or even improve market access; promote good relationships with suppliers, retailers, policymakers, and consumers; and lift farm performance overall. They may also help you access incentives, including by tapping into the carbon market. They may require trade-offs, which only you can decide. 

The tips and strategies here should help you:

  • Get a better handle on the on-farm sources and sinks of carbon emissions
  • Take stock of what you’re already doing and look for opportunities to do better 
  • Develop CSA strategies that match your needs, values and goals
  • Find more detailed information and support

Resources

Keep reading:

1. Understanding climate

2. Whole farm planning

3. Carbon storage (see also mitigation)

4. Mitigation

5. Water management

6. Horticulture and viticulture

7. Livestock

8. Climate risk beyond the farm gate