IN-DEPTH

Gauge on climate: Tasmania has warmed by about one degree in the past 100 years

NEXT GENERATION: Henry and Josie Dunbabin with their six-month-old daughter Grace, of the property Milton, near Swansea. Picture: Paul Scambler
NEXT GENERATION: Henry and Josie Dunbabin with their six-month-old daughter Grace, of the property Milton, near Swansea. Picture: Paul Scambler

Climate change is a divisive issue, but second-generation farmer Henry Dunbabin sees it with his own eyes every single day.

He has lived on the land his whole life and recently took over leasing the sheep side of his family's farm.

Climate change has taken its toll on the farm, the flock is about half the size it used to be and while there is access to irrigation, it would mean a sizable investment to ensure adequate supply.

"We are finding it's a struggle to even make it viable, a lot of farmers now have to diversify, most of them have a vineyard as well now," he said.

While leasing the sheep business had always been a dream for him, Mr Dunbabin said it was no longer viable to think of it "as the end goal" for his family.

Climate change is evident everywhere on the farm, the spring and autumn rains can no longer be relied on and the drier seasons are becoming more frequent.

"We can no longer rely on what falls out of the sky," Mr Dunbabin said.

Farmers are used to unpredictable weather but have come to rely on a certain level of rainfall and hot days.

However, now, it is becoming harder and harder to predict.

Henry Dunbabin with his Merino sheep flock.

Henry Dunbabin with his Merino sheep flock.

"We have had five years without decent spring or autumn rainfall," Mr Dunbabin said.

"When I was growing up we'd have dry spells, but they wouldn't last for as long or we'd have a wet one the next year.

"Nowadays we have a lot of dry seasons but they last for a lot longer."

Irrigation has been hailed as the saviour for farmers who are experiencing climate change and the state government has invested heavily in this area to protect farms.

The state government has invested in three "tranches" of irrigation schemes across Tasmania in an effort to future proof against climate change.

However, Mr Dunbabin said the investment is welcome, but it comes at a cost.

He said his farm does have access to irrigation but is in need of a pivot to allow it to reach across the farm.

We have had five years without decent spring or autumn rainfall...we can no longer rely on what falls out of the sky.

East Coast farmer Henry Dunbabin

"It becomes a much more significant investment for us."

To combat this issue, only part of the farm can be irrigated and only part of the farm is fertilised the way it should be.

The Merino flock is also half the size it was in his father's day - which Mr Dunbabin said is partly to do with climate change but partly to do with access to food for the sheep.

"We can't fertilise as much as we'd like," he said.

Mr Dunbabin is one of a number of farmers who are on the "front line" of climate change.

As a state that relies heavily on agriculture, climate change will have a big impact on our food production and will change what food we grow and meat we produce and how.

June 5 is World Environment Day and The Examiner is taking the opportunity to launch its series on climate change.

The series will focus on climate change and how it relates to a Tasmanian experience.

It will talk about waste and how to reduce it, and call on the leaders in our communities at all levels (local, state and federal) to put in place concrete environmental and climate change strategies to ensure this issue is managed.

It will also talk about the research that is being done in the area and how policy can line up to meet community expectation on the topic.

Has Tassie experienced change?

Bureau of Meteorology climatologist Ian Barnes-Keoghan said in broad terms Tasmania had warmed by about one degree in the past 100 years.

"That doesn't sound like much but it is significant," he said.

"In terms of climate change, the trend in Tasmania is observable and there are no parts of Tasmania that aren't affected."

Tasmania's climate change temperature is not as strong as other parts of the country, but the trend is easy to track.

Mr Barnes-Keoghan said climate change in Tasmania manifested itself in different ways - and one of those ways was in the increase of extreme weather.

He said while there were not many days in Tasmania that reached above 40 degrees, days where it was above average or high temperatures were increasing.

There are no climate change sceptics in the BOM office, Mr Barnes-Keoghan said.

"Since 1910 there have been 12 days in Tasmania that were over 40 degrees," he said.

"But eight of those 12 were in the last 16 years."

Mr Barnes-Keoghan said extreme weather events were increasing and they were clustering together more frequently since 2000 than previously.

Forecasts also show that Tasmania is on track to add another degree to its average temperature over the next 100 years.

Mr Barnes-Keoghan said that would have significant impacts on agriculture - but not all of them bad.

"There are some crops in Tasmania that won't grow because it's too cold, so a change in temperature might open up those crops," he said.

However, the flip side is that some crops rely on the cold snap as part of their life cycle and would be more resistant if that cold didn't appear at the right time.

  • Have a climate change question you're burning to ask? Let us know and email caitlin.jarvis@fairfaxmedia.com.au
This story East Coast farmer shares how one degree has affected his farm first appeared on The Examiner.