Hard to Swallow: How climate change is affecting Australian food


THE price, quality and seasonality of Australia’s food is increasingly being affected by climate change with Australia’s future food security under threat, a ground-breaking report by the Climate Council has revealed.

Australia’s food supply chain is highly exposed to disruption from increasing extreme weather events driven by climate change with farmers already struggling to cope with more frequent and intense droughts and changing weather patterns, the Feeding a Hungry Nation: Climate Change, Food and Farming in Australia report found.

The Climate Council’s Professor Lesley Hughes said Australia’s agricultural competitiveness in many agricultural markets will be challenged by the warming climate and changing weather patterns.

“Australia is one of the most vulnerable developed countries in the world to climate change impacts,” she said.

“This is already posing very significant challenges to food production. Food prices will continue to go up, the quality of food could be compromised and the seasonality of food could change as the climate continues to warm and weather patterns become more unpredictable.

“Many of our favourite foods, including milk, fruit, vegetables, wine and beef are already being affected by climate change and these impacts will grow as weather extremes get worse.”

The report also found:

Climate change impacts are already being observed in many of Australia’s favourite foods, including rice, lamb, milk, beef, stone fruits and wine grapes.

Climate change is projected to worsen drought conditions with severe implications for farmers and food prices.

Climate change is affecting the quality and seasonal availability of many foods in Australia. Up to 70% of Australia’s wine-growing regions with a Mediterranean climate (including iconic locations such as the Barossa Valley and Margaret River) are becoming less suitable for grape growing with higher temperatures causing earlier ripening and reduced grape quality.

More frequent and intense heatwaves are already affecting food prices in Australia. Food prices during the 2005-2007 drought increased at twice the rate of the Consumer Price Index (CPI) with fresh fruit and vegetables the worst hit, increasing 43% and 33% respectively. Cyclone Larry destroyed 90% of the North Queensland banana crop in 2006, affecting supply for nine months and increasing prices by 500%.

“All animals struggle during heatwaves and dairy cows are particularly vulnerable. It’s not unusual for their milk production to drop overnight by up to 40%,” Illawarra dairy farmer Lynne Strong said.

“We’ve taken lots of small steps on our farm, including putting in thousands of shade trees and installing sprinklers in the dairy, to protect the cows during these extreme weather events. However, if they continue to increase the only option for many dairy farmers will be to house their cows in air conditioned sheds. If this happens, milk may become a luxury item.

“Farmers can play a really important role in delivering climate change solutions through producing their own renewable energy and implementing sustainable farming systems that increase carbon storage in vegetation and soils.

“But we can’t fight climate change alone. We need to be backed by greater action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions if we’re to protect both the livelihood of farmers and the integrity of Australia’s food supply.”

Professor Tim Flannery said there was no room for complacency in planning for our future food security.

“Large parts of Australia are currently in drought including a record 80 per cent of Queensland,” he said.

“We are watching the realities of a warming world unfold before our eyes and the impacts on everyday Australian households as food prices and food availability become more volatile and affect the economies and social fabric of those communities that rely on agricultural production.

“Australian farmers have demonstrated great resilience in the face of harsh physical and social challenges. But if the present rate of climate change continues, there will be many challenges to which adaptation is simply not possible.

“We must urgently transition to a new low carbon economy if we are to adequately safeguard our food supply.”

The Climate Council is an independent, crowd-funded organisation providing quality information to climate change to the Australian

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