“The only place with a more variable than where I live is the desert,” says Peter Whip, Longreach grazier and Managing Climate Variability (MCV) Climate Champion farmer.
Yet Peter and his wife Raeleen managed to survive eight years of drought during the first part of this century and expand their beef cattle business in 2011.
And then came 2015: “This was certainly the worst year I’ve seen. It was probably the worst year anyone around Longreach can remember in the last 30-40 years,” Peter says.
But Peter and other graziers in the region are confident they can make the most of the rain that fell early this year especially if there are follow up rains soon.
Peter Whip is one of 20 MCV Climate Champion farmers who mix with Australia’s top climate scientists to learn the latest about climate variability. They share their knowledge about how to better manage their climate risks with other farmers.
Peter says that being part of the program over the past six years has given him a much greater appreciation of the level of climate variability in his region.
“I now actively work to make our grazing business more resilient to the climate variability we already have, and which we are likely to see more of in the future,” he says.
“For example, we have reduced the distance that stock have to walk to water by putting in additional watering points.
“After we bought Royston [in 2011], we broke up eight paddocks into 28 smaller ones so we could move cattle easily from one paddock to another and give the country a rest.”
With disappearing pastures and a less than average chance of above median rainfall projected, Peter made the decision to destock and sell off his 2000 head of cattle in early 2015. He retained 200 of the two to three year-old breeding heifers on agisted country in the south for when the season got better.
Peter believes that even though it may not look like it right now, his pastures are still healthy and that is due to the way he managed the property prior to de-stocking.
“Now our pasture may be really short but most of it’s still alive and healthy. It’s just sitting dormant, ready to grow again when it does rain. It’s amazing country.”
Peter says he is not the only grazier doing this in the region, and says this is partly due to the extension he has done as part of the Climate Champion program through workshops, radio, TV and personal interactions with other graziers.
“Even though it was a roaring drought last year there was an enormous amount of activity going on out here. People were fencing and putting in new water sources. It’s amazing how resilient people are. They had no income but were spending serious money.”
Peter says the climate forecast tools for his region have very low skill level compared to those used by grain growers in the south.
“Through the Climate Champion program I learnt that this was largely due to limitations that forecasters currently have in predicting the weather that brings our summer storms,” he says.
“However, MCV-funded research is working on this and my interactions with climate scientists through the Climate Champion program was helpful in developing my opinion as to the longer term outlook for El Nino/La Nina.”
In the meantime, Peter has everything in place to make the most of any rains that do come this season.
“To survive out here, you simply must make the most of your peak times, because that’s got to carry you through the tough ones.”
You can read more about how Peter and other farmers manage climate risk on their properties on www.climatekelpie.com.au.
MCV aims to help farmers manage the risks and exploit the opportunities resulting from Australia’s variable and changing climate by:
- improving the accuracy of forecasting on time frames of value for primary producers
- providing climate products, services and tools for managing climate risk
- increasing primary producers’ knowledge and confidence to adopt climate risk management strategies.
Jenni Metcalfe, phone 0408 551 866, firstname.lastname@example.org