Farming is part of the solution

The quest for cutting greenhouse gas emissions is often portrayed as a battle fought by inner-city radicals, who are too busy sipping their latte to understand the real world outside their neighbourhood. If you think there might be some truth in this statement, then you might be interested in hearing about Farmers for climate action.

Amongst the economic activities that are suffering from changing climate patterns, farming is one of the most threatened. The two long-lasting droughts that Australia has experienced from the turn of the century are an indication of what’s to come. Sustained changes in average temperatures and related drops in water supply can drastically reduce the profitability of growing crops and raising animals. In particular, regional areas that base their economy mostly on farming are expected to pay the highest price.

For many farmers the concern about the future has translated into frustration about the lack of political action. To make their voice more clearly heard, around a hundred of them gathered in 2016 in the Blue Mountains to develop a common strategy. That was the beginning of Farmers for climate action, an association that now counts around 5,000 farmers from all over the country having a common goal: making farming part of the solution to climate change.

On the CCL National Zoom Meeting of May 9th, the deputy chair Charlie Prell discussed with us goals and strategies of Farmers for climate action. He wanted to stress that the key word in the name of their movement is “action”. What certainly transpired from his speech was the same determination and no-nonsense attitude that people often associate to farmers. The focus of the movement is to inform farmers about the science of climate change, the need to advocate for climate action to protect their own livelihood, as well as the opportunities coming from a low-carbon transition. This is summarised in the concept of developing a “smart agriculture”, a topic on which Farmers for climate action has trained more than 1,000 farmers since its creation.

While adjusting farming methods to reduce the greenhouse footprint is a key step in addressing the climate crisis, farmers can contribute in other – profitable – ways. One of the opportunities that farmers are already taking is having solar and wind farms installed on their property. Charlie reminded us that while agriculture contributes to approximately 13% of Australia’s carbon emissions, around 80% comes from the energy sector. Charlie himself took on the opportunity and installed in his land in Crookwell NSW a few wind turbines, which supply power to the ACT. Immediately after the installation a few years ago, Charlie told us about the several complaints from neighbours who declared themselves affected by the construction. Crucially, the complaints stopped as soon as also the neighbours started receiving a share of the income from that wind farm.

Charlie’s story might teach us a few useful lessons. What we might superficially consider ideological opposition could well be a misunderstanding of other people’s needs. In transitioning to a low carbon-emission economy, entire communities need to be involved and everyone should be appropriately compensated. The final and most important lesson is that we can well come up with solutions that make everyone happy.

Regional Australia will have a key role in transitioning to a low carbon economy, and farmers will indeed be part of the solution to climate change.