Challenges and Opportunities in Agriculture and NRM


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Keynote to the Ag Institute Queensland, Allan Border Field Brisbane, 20 march 2013

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Challenges and Opportunities in Agriculture and NRM

  1. 1. Challenges and opportunitiesin agriculture and NRMANDREW CAMPBELLAg Institute Australia, Brisbane 20 March 2013
  2. 2. Key Points• Food, water, land and energy are intricately interconnected• Long-term security concerns, amplified by climate change, affect all• These issues all interact and compound each other• There is considerable scope to increase production and exploit growing domestic and export markets• Conventional approaches are likely to be risky with patchy success − Apart from getting more Aust farmers closer to the best, & shortening the tail• Smarter Planning, R&D, Extension and Education are required urgently• Some thoughts on how we could improve the system 2
  3. 3. 2010-11 Disaster Season• All States and Territories affected• 320 (of 559) Local Government Areas disaster declared – some more than once• 72 (of 73) Local Government Areas in Queensland• 36 lives lost• More than 200,000 people evacuated from 70 towns• Economic loss - estimated in excess of A$9 billion• Scale of impact required additional Australian Government support• Australian Govt pledged A$6.6 billion to recovery and reconstruction• A$900 Million in individual payments 4
  4. 4. Global warming is here, and we are causing it 5
  5. 5. Scales for response to climate change • Many of the main drivers of biodiversity loss operate at the landscape-scale e.g. habitat fragmentation, invasive species and changed fire regimes. • It is the scale which lends itsel CSIRO 2010
  6. 6. Water availability per capita is declining • Each calorie takes one litre of water to produce, on average • Like the Murray Darling Basin, all the world’s major food producing basins are effectively ‘closed’ or already over- committedIWMI Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management In Agriculture 7
  7. 7. The world needs 70% more food• The world needs to increase food production by about 70% by 2050, & improve distribution (Queensland aims to double by 2040)• We have done this in the past, mainly through clearing, cultivating and irrigating more land – and intensification, better varieties, more fertiliser, pesticides• Climate change and oil depletion is narrowing those options, with limits to water, land, energy & nutrients. We need to grow food: – Using less land, water & energy and emitting less carbon – Improving nutrition, distribution, animal welfare, pollution – Looking after rural landscapes, biodiversity, amenity & communities 8
  8. 8. Profound technical challenges1. To decouple economic growth from carbon emissions2. To adapt to an increasingly difficult climate3. To increase water productivity — decoupling the 1 litre per calorie relationship4. To increase energy productivity – more food energy out per unit of energy in – while shifting from fossil fuels to renewable energy5. To develop more sustainable food systems – In competition for land and water with the resources sector – while conserving biodiversity and – improving landscape amenity, soil health, animal welfare & human health6. TO DO ALL OF THE ABOVE SIMULTANEOUSLY! — improving sustainability and resilience
  9. 9. We need a third agricultural revolution• High level goals: e.g. doubling food &fibre production while doubling water productivity, and becoming a net energy producer from farming & pastoral lands• How to get there? – Farming systems that make more efficient use of and conserve water, energy, nutrients, carbon and biodiversity – Smart metering, sensing, telemetry, robotics, guidance, biotech – Better understanding of soil carbon & microbial activity – Radically reducing waste in all parts of the food chain – Farming systems producing renewable (2nd gen) bioenergy • Also producing energy from waste – Urban and peri-urban food production10 – Attracting talented young people into careers in agriculture
  10. 10. Myth-busting ‘100 Top End Dams’• 60% of Australia’s run off in 55 free-draining catchments ‘going to waste’?NO:• All water is ‘used’• Any additional extraction will have an impact• Connectivity is crucial in these systems – Catchment to coast – Life cycles of biota, e.g. barramundi – Indigenous food webs and cultural uses – Groundwater-surface water interactions• Options for surface water storages very limited – Coastal floodplains already affected by 18cm sea level rise (last 20 years)
  11. 11. The Mary River, NTfloodplains affected by rising sea levelsExtensive melaleuca dieback as the system gets saltier18cm sea level rise over last 20 years
  12. 12. Constraints to irrigated agriculture in the north• Despite popular perceptions, these systems are water-limited – evaporation exceeds rainfall, dry season is long and difficult• Soils are generally ancient, weathered, low nutrient status, poor resilience to impact or disturbance• Given climatic extremes, erosion and soil loss potential can be very high on even gently sloping sites• Pest and disease problems can be very significant• Input and transport costs are much higher than in the south• Labour is more difficult to attract and keep• Processing and marketing infrastructure is limited• Markets are distant, supply chains vulnerable
  13. 13. Opportunities for irrigation in the north• North Australia Land & Water Task Force suggested potential for 20,000 – 40,000 hectares of new irrigation• Probably groundwater-based, distributed in ‘mosaic’ irrigation systems (see CSIRO Northern Irrigation Futures project)• Scope for integration with cattle to increase feed supply & qualityMy take:• OK, but off-farm, industry-level constraints (markets, transport, processing, marketing, labour, energy) equally important as agronomic and environmental challenges• Significant opportunities to expand/intensify existing sites (e.g. Burdekin, Ord, Lockyer, Darling Downs and peri-urban areas)• Major opportunities next door in neighbouring countries
  14. 14. Planning landscapes & infrastructure• How can this all ‘fit’ at a landscape and regional scale?• The landscape needs to be re-plumbed and re-wired• We need new planning approaches that: – are robust under a range of climate change & demographic scenarios – treat all land uses equitably – e.g. unconventional gas – build in resilience thinking (e.g. improve flood performance & recovery, ensure habitat connectivity & buffering, protect refugia, don’t crowd coastlines) – reduce greenhouse gas emissions (energy, transport, food) – rethink transport networks (greener, tougher, smarter) – safeguard productive soil and allow for increased food production – facilitate recycling of water, nutrients and energy Leading, educating and bringing the community on board
  15. 15. Our R&D system is so last Century…• Big challenges for Australian agriculture: climate, water, food, energy, land use planning, biosecurity (pests, weeds, disease), social license• All cross-sectoral, with strong public dimensions• Yet our R&D architecture is overwhelmingly commodity-based, production-focused, with modest incentives for public good − Exacerbated by 2009 abolition of Land & Water Australia & RIRDC cuts• Productivity Commission 2010 Review of Rural RDCs got it mostly right − especially on re-establishing a bigger version of LWA 16
  16. 16. Research & Development (2)We need a bigger share of R&D spend on:• blue sky work: e.g. energy, ICT, GM, web-based extension• cross-sectoral: e.g. − agriculture/health system links − urban and peri-urban agriculture − regional land use planning − social acceptance of agriculture• risk and resilience: e.g. − extreme events − biosecurity − mass movement of large numbers of people• large systems & macro scales in space and time 17
  17. 17. Extension needs a complete rethink• The quickest way to double productivity in Australia is to narrow the gap between the average & the best farmers − and to shorten the long tail in most sectors• Traditionally we’ve done this through extension and education − but all govts have cut extension & until this year ag enrolments have been falling• Private sector extension OK for selling products, but not set up for cross- industry, regional scale or public good extension (or newcomers to Ag)• RDCs have a major tension between $ to research vs extension• Grower groups fine in some districts – need a more secure base• Whole issue needs a rethink. National RD&E strategies disappointing.• Web 2.0 and 3.0 a major opportunity but not replacing face to face (agree with recent AFI thoughts of Mike Stephens and Dave Pannell & Sally Marsh) 18
  18. 18. Education crucial, but crying out for reform• Skills gap well documented by Allens 2012 Report*• Ag has low levels of professional training c/f Oz economy − negative connotations in terms of profitability, lifestyle, ‘old economy’ and environmental virtue — tends to be judged by worst practice• Need to re-think, re-tool, re-skill and re-brand• Ag training still potentially very useful − Breadth across the physical, chemical and biological sciences & ecology − Significant doses of applied economics and management − Just enough social science to be dangerous (room for improvement) − But needs overhauling to underline centrality of ag in food, water, climate, energy and health challenges — make it sexy & relevant 19*Rebuilding the Agricultural Workforce Report to the Business/Higher Education Round Table
  19. 19. Agricultures need to make a better case• Mike Stephens identifies several agricultures: − the ~ 3000 very large businesses − the productive and profitable middle − the unprofitable − the peri-urban, and lifestyle or hobby farmers• ‘One size fits all’ approaches won’t work: Ag is multicultural• Connect to consumers & invest in understanding them − animal welfare and concerns about industrial food won’t go away• Engage with social media – e.g. #AgChatOz#Food• Landcare and Regional NRM should be seen as crucial to the sustainability, social license and social capital of Australian Ag. 20
  20. 20. In Summary• Food, water, land, energy and health are interconnected• Climate change intensifies interactions, trade-offs and risks• Australian agriculture has big opportunities and responsibilities• Innovation is required across a broader canvas than the current commodity-based institutional architecture was designed for• Smarter Planning, R&D, Extension and Education are needed − Probably requiring new, dedicated, mandated, skilful organisations• This is an extraordinary challenge and opportunity for the agricultural science profession, and professional bodies. 21
  21. 21. For more information e.g. Paddock to Plate Managing Australian SoilsManaging Australian Landscapes in a Changing Climate Powerful Choices The Getting of Knowledge