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    Reckoning with Climate Resilience

    drought wide 320Much of Australia might be sopping wet, but the spectre of the inevitable next big drought haunts the thoughts of farmers and pastoralists.

    A new initiative by the University of New England (UNE) aims to ensure that when the next dry hits, the region’s farmers are better equipped to manage their way through it.

    The Drought Resilient Soils and Landscapes project received $900,000 funding from the Australian Government’s Future Drought Fund. Led by UNE’s Professor Lewis Kahn, Mr Peter Fitzgerald and Dr Sara Mika, the purpose is to coach groups of farmers in the science and craft of managing livestock systems for climate resilience.

    Farmers participating in the project will learn to navigate climate variability and drought conditions using a range of indicators for success, including improved farm productivity, ground cover, and soil organic matter, and reduced weeds, erosion and rainfall runoff.

    The knowledge gained will be shared among “communities of practice” through regional Landcare networks. Two networks, the Glen Innes Natural Resources Advisory Committee (GLENRAC Inc.) and Southern New England Landcare Ltd (SNEL), are partners in the project.

    A third partner, Northern Tablelands Local Land Services, will link the project with other pasture projects in the region.

    “So many programs come and then go, and leave behind whatever they have learned,” says Prof. Kahn.

    “We’re aiming to build an enduring community of practice that provides a continuous learning process and can be scaled. As a network, Landcare provides a forum for communication, so it can share data, and share the learnings about the ways that people learn.”

    “GLENRAC and SNEL will each put together five groups of landholders who will work together with a project officer to explore how to best manage pasture and livestock systems for climatic resilience.”

    “Once we have established a process for how these groups work, it’s then possible that the process could be rolled out across the country. Each group would work independently, but they could be all linked together to share regional successes and failures.”

    To help farmers see their circumstances more objectively, and manage climate risk, the project will provide access to Ag360, a sophisticated, free online software tool developed by the Sheep CRC and transferred to UNE when the CRC wrapped up its research. Ag360 predicts specific farm rainfall, soil moisture, pasture growth, and animal weight up to six months in advance, and provides a comprehensive mapping and farm records function.

    “Ag360 is the centrepiece of the coaching process,” Prof. Kahn says. “It can be used to enrich the conversation about future plans for livestock enterprises. For example, here you are with a six-month forecast for production factors like climate and soil moisture: how are you going to respond with decisions about carrying capacity and grazing plans? And after that period is past, the groups can ask: was that useful information to have when we were making decisions about carrying capacity on our farms?”

    As part of this project, Dr Sarah Mika, a freshwater ecologist at UNE, will look at the effects of managing livestock systems for climate resilience on catchment waterways – their water quality, baseflows and aquatic ecosystems.

    The results of freshwater monitoring will be fed back into the landholder groups as another indicator of management effectiveness.

    A project officer will be advertised in coming weeks, Prof. Kahn says, and the communities of practice will start working together later in the year.

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