Much of Australia’s agriculture is sensitive to the relatively large seasonal climate variations experienced by this country. The Managing Climate Variability (MCV) program has specialised for over 20 years in helping producers deal with seasonal variability by funding a combination of basic climate research, development, extension and communication.
This Research and Development Operational Plan for the fifth round of MCV funding (2016-17 to 2021-22) describes an integrated program of project options designed to obtain the best possible outcomes for Australian agriculture. It is the result of a wide consultation process involving climate and agriculture researchers, practitioners and producers.
A few key messages emerged from the wealth of valuable information gathered. Ultimately, users want timely, accurate and easy-to-understand information about climate events that will have an impact, either good or bad, on their business. This might involve increased forecast skill at multiweek to multi-year timescales, warning of extreme temperature and rainfall events, probabilities of wet or dry seasons, and simple and familiar tools and guidance to help them make important management decisions.
To achieve this, two plans are suggested here. Plan A is based around a single large project to be submitted to round three of the Rural Research and Development for Profit (RR&D4P(r3)) Program of the Commonwealth Government, which provides excellent leverage for limited MCV funds. This project covers a wide range of topics; basic climate model improvement, evaluation, product development, operational services and delivery, farming applications, and education and training. Plan A contains smaller complementary projects to develop standard interfaces between climate model output and agricultural decisions support tools, industry studies to apply and value seasonal forecasts in selected industries, and an updated assessment of the overall value of seasonal forecast information to Australian agriculture. The latter will be important in documenting success and attracting continued funding into the future.
The integrated program delivered by Plan A is probably the best mix of projects to deliver on the MCV5 Business Case (MCV 2016). In the event that the RR&D4P(r3) proposal is not successful, Plan B has been developed to preserve as much of plan A as possible with reduced funds. The smaller projects from Plan A remain in Plan B. Additional projects are added which develop and implement the next two generations of seasonal forecast systems (ACCESS S2 and S3), explore the reasons and solutions for the systematic bias emanating from the Indian Ocean, deliver forecasts of the likelihood of frost and extreme rainfall events, and enhance the use, value, uptake and communication of forecasts. It will probably be difficult for MCV to fund all of Plan B by simply partnering with research organisations because of the reduced leverage compared to the RR&D4P program.
In the event that the RR&D4P(r3) proposal is successful, there are two further important projects that could be considered should additional funding become available. First is to increase funding for the implementation of ACCESS S2 and S3, which is not fully covered in the RR&D4P(r3) proposal. This will help these models to come on line as soon as possible. The second project involves upgrading the ACCESS land surface model to the Australian model CABLE developed specifically for Australian conditions. This is a relatively large undertaking, but would be a wise long-term investment with the possibility of improving the model substantially, particularly at farm scales.