When it comes to climate change, farmers see it all. From being responsible for a significant proportion of green house gas emissions, experiencing the direct impacts of the warming planet, all while holding the power to mitigate climate change.
In the rural New South Wales town of Yass, Mandy and Mark Wales own an Angus cattle stud. They, like many farmers, were left shattered by the 2017 to 2019 drought when rainfall was at a historic low.
Two years on, the drought persists. Costs to maintain livestock keep growing – with no pasture left, hay prices have surged. Water is scarce and cattle prices have plummeted. Mandy and Mark know it’s a money sink.
“It’s emotionally devastating. It is awful to see what happens to your land and to animals when there’s just no feed,” Mandy said.
With recent evidence that Australia has warmed by 1.4 degrees since 1910, Australian farmers are experiencing the brunt of global warming, with drought, floods and fires proving costly to Australian agriculture.
Australia’s agriculture industry accounts for nearly 15 per cent of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions. On the need for sustainable farming, Mandy said: “Farmers have a really strong sense of responsibility for being custodians of the land, and we have a responsibility to make the land better than we took it.”
The climate is going to become more volatile so what we need to do is workout how we’re going to weather the storm the best we can.
Farmers for Climate Action board member Angus Emmott has seen the effect of droughts on remote farming communities head-on.
“Everyone’s impacted by climate change but when you’re on the land you get that impact directly. It’s just really challenging. There’s a lot of mental health issues through the bush,” Emmott said.
“We’re right at the forefront and we’re going to be copping more and more impacts because the science is very clear that the temperature is going to keep going up and the climate is going to become more volatile so what we need to do is workout how we’re going to weather the storm the best we can.”
Emerging research and technologies are equipping farmers with the means to achieve Meat and Livestock Australia’s 2030 carbon neutral target. Genetic focused breeding, carbon farming and rotational grazing are just some practices that contributed towards the 56.7 per cent reduction in the beef industry’s carbon emissions between 2005 and 2017.
In Yass, the Wales have a philosophy that environmental resources must be used as efficiently as possible.
“Mark always says you should be using the land to produce something that’s high quality, instead of wasting it with poor quality genetics,” Mandy remarked.
The pair’s breeding program uses data from DNA and fertility testing to measure each animal’s Estimated Breeding Value.
Compared to previous generations, we know a lot more. As we learn more, we can do things better and more sustainably. It’s really quite exciting.
A report released earlier this month from Ernst & Young suggests that if the current agriculture technologies, practices and initiatives are pragmatically scaled up, Australia’s agriculture industry will reach net zero emissions by 2040.
Mandy beams at the growing potential of sustainability in the red meat industry.
“Compared to previous generations, we know a lot more,” she said. “As we learn more, we can do things better and more sustainably. It’s really quite exciting.”
Photos by Katelyn Milligan.