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  • Writer's pictureFlow Australia

Farmers plan for drier conditions by preparing soils

The majority of Australian farmers feel they are more prepared now to handle extreme weather than they have been for the past five years.

Nine out of 10 farmers have a plan in place to deal with drier weather, according to a new report.

Researchers interviewed 100 farmers in November and found 92 per cent have a plan in place for drought, with 74 per cent less concerned about an El Nino event - which typically brings drier conditions - than they were five years ago.

The research was commissioned by Kellanova ANZ, the parent company of Kellogg's, in an attempt to help farmers become more climate-resilient.

The report showed almost a third of farmers are confident the practices they use will help them prepare for drought.

It follows the weather bureau's declaration in September of an El Nino, which brings drier conditions and follows the driest three years on record from 2017-19 over the Murray-Darling Basin and NSW.

"Farmers in general understand they need to be more climate-resilient," Kellanova's director of agribusiness Chris Stevens said. 

Soil health has been integral to how farmers have prepared with about two-thirds saying they prioritised improving it to help counteract harsh weather patterns.

Last week the federal government launched a national-first action plan to improve Australia's poor soil health, which includes a country-wide monitoring program.

Mr Stevens said the research was carried out to help "get an understanding of what both the consumer and the farmers felt about the impact of the El Nino event".

"Without our farmers we don't have a business in Australia,'' he said.

"If our farmers are suffering because of lower yields ... not only does it create a supply situation, it also creates a pricing situation." 

Researchers also interviewed consumers and found 86 per cent of Aussies are worried about what El Nino will mean for farmers, with potentially drier conditions and drought.

And 40 per cent of Australians feel it could have a devastating effect if the country enters a drought this summer.

"We wanted to understand what they (consumers) knew about what a drought means to Australian farmers," Mr Stevens said. 

Soil scientist Cassandra Schefe from Charles Sturt University, who has been working with farmers to help reduce greenhouse gases and improve soil, was unsurprised by the results.

Cassandra Schefe has been working with farmers to help reduce greenhouse gases and improve soil.

"I would say that a lot more farmers are acknowledging the value of their soils in their systems," she said.

"Appreciating what's happening below the surface is becoming a lot more important.

"Over the last 20 years it used to be getting a soil test was something quite novel for farmers to do, now it's becoming a standard practice."

The Cool Soil Initiative run by Charles Sturt University is backed by companies including Kellanova.

For the past five years researchers have been working with almost 200 wheat, corn and canola farmers across eastern Australia to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve soil. 

"It's the first time that a group of companies have got together pretty competitively to support a large group of farmers to make change on the ground," Dr Schefe said.

The research was released to coincide with World Soil Day on Tuesday.


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