The more the merrier -- farmers must diversify to survive

Jul 11, 2012
Mixed farming can help farmers protect themselves against the long-term impacts of climate change

Aside from market fluctuations and changes in commodity prices, climate variability is the greatest threat to the long-term economic viability of dryland farms. In order to counter these uncertainties, many farmers have turned to diversification as a short-term survival strategy, but little research exists on the long-term benefits.

A recent study by CSIRO’s Sustainable Agriculture Flagship in the Lower Murray region in southern Australia set out to confirm whether diversification has any real long-term benefit for . The findings were presented in a paper published recently in Ecological Economics.

The study used advanced simulation, probability theory and soil and climate modelling, including the Agricultural Production Systems Simulator (APSIM), and found that diversification not only helps farmers to hedge their bets against commodity price fluctuations, it can also help protect them from climate variability.

The study’s lead author, CSIRO’s John Kandulu, said diversification could reduce standard deviation by up to 52 per cent of average net returns and increase the probability of breaking even by up to 20 percent.

“Our study area covered 11.8-million hectares and included a range of agricultural practices as well as landscape types and climatic conditions,” Mr. Kandulu said.

“Using historic climate and soil records from 138 different zones over a 116 year period, we were able to apply modelling techniques to compare the performance of a wide range of agricultural enterprise mixes consisting of several different crops and livestock, with that of single-crop agricultural systems,” he said.

The research found diversification should be considered as a long-term strategy to mitigate economic risk from , a feature of farming that may increase in future in response to climate change.

Mr. Kandulu said the practice of mixed enterprise is not a ‘one size fits all’ solution.

“We found the greatest benefit for diversification can be achieved by those farmers in moderate rainfall areas where there is a mix of grazing and cropping, with limited benefit for those in very high and very low rainfall areas,” he said.

Mr. Kandulu said the results can also be applied to other regions of Australia that have the same soil and climatic conditions. In particular, the central parts of the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia, the Hay and Griffith regions of New South Wales and around Armadale in Western Australia could all reap long-term benefit from diversification.

“The next logical phase for this research is to expand it to a broader scale and include more land types, more soil types and a greater range of , and to assess the impact of under projected future climate conditions,” Mr. Kandulu said.

Explore further: Study shows the factors influencing which conservation news get shared on social media

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Climate is warming - despite 'ups and downs'

Dec 28, 2010

Periodic short-term cooling in global temperatures should not be misinterpreted as signalling an end to global warming, according to an Honorary Research Fellow with CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Barrie Hunt.

Aerosols -- their part in our rainfall

Feb 12, 2009

Aerosols may have a greater impact on patterns of Australian rainfall and future climate change than previously thought, according to leading atmospheric scientist, CSIRO's Dr. Leon Rotstayn.

Recommended for you

World's wildlife critical to the economies of nations

7 hours ago

Wildlife is critical to the economies of nations. New Zealand's wildlife – whales, dolphins, red deer, thar, albatross, kiwi, tuatara, fish and kauri – attract tourists. And the tourists who come to see ...

Modern methods lead the way toward a rhino rebound

7 hours ago

Cutting-edge technology and techniques have become essential tools in the effort to save rhinos. Micro chips, translocation and consumer campaigns are helping shift the balance against record-setting poaching ...

The water trading strategies of plants

8 hours ago

Plants trade water for carbon – every litre of water that they extract from the soil allows them to take up a few more grams of carbon from the atmosphere to use in growth. A new global study, led by Australian ...

Chinese ivory traders find haven online

10 hours ago

China's booming e-commerce websites have carried thousands of advertisements for illegal wildlife products including ivory, rhino horn and tiger bone, a wildlife trade monitoring network said on Tuesday.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.