We get one planet — and we can all play a part in a brighter tomorrow.
Sustainability is a complex issue with many facets — but a chat with agribusiness, water and environment consulting firm, Pinion Advisory, helped us start breaking it down.
Sarah Barrett, a specialist in agricultural systems encompassing broadacre, mixed farming, and viticulture, leads Pinion Advisory's national Sustainability Strategy Team from South Australia. With her team, Sarah focuses on identifying sustainability opportunities, particularly in the context of climate change and agriculture on a global scale. She’s a gun at dispelling curiosity and confusion within this field through educational efforts, extension services and practical on-farm trials — and she’s passionate about helping Australian farmers better understand and evaluate the potential advantages and risks associated with sustainability initiatives.
“We offer independent advice to farmers, and one thing that sets us apart is that we’re able to see the whole spectrum of a business, economic, social and environmental systems, which is really important when it comes to sustainability,” Sarah explains.
We chatted with Sarah about the role of the global climate crisis in the big picture of sustainability.
How is the global climate crisis currently affecting local agriculture?
Australian farmers are adjusting to the environmental challenges of our warming climate, and managing risk is becoming part of the norm. We’re already seeing changes in the South Australian climate, with a 1.6°C increase in average annual temperature since 1910. Our cool seasons are drier, and summers are seeing more rain, with a persistent rainfall variability and decline in the southern agricultural areas.
Dangerous weather conditions for bushfires have also increased — and these are predicted to all continue worsening, meaning hotter temperatures, more unpredictable rainfall, changes to growing seasons, longer fire seasons, rising sea levels, extreme rain events and the devastation that could follow.
Climate Change at a glance
- Current day climate change is largely driven by increases in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which increase the greenhouse effect.
- At a recent climate summit, scientists warned that we're on course for a global temperature increase of 2 to 3.6 degrees Celsius by 2100.
- To meet the international goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, we must cut global emissions in half by 2030.
- While Australia contributes only 1.14% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, the country's per capita carbon footprint is high, ranking 10th in the world.
- Australia's overall climate change performance has improved slightly, but it still ranks low, 55th out of 61 countries. We lag behind many other developed nations in areas like greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy, and climate policy.
- Australia has set goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 43% compared to 2005 levels by 2030 and to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
Australian farmers are already some of the most efficient farmers in the world (particularly our grain farmers), but these challenges and impacts will continue to affect growing seasons, increase algal blooms, and expand the range of pest plants and animals. South Australia is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by over 50% by 2030, achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, and generating 100% renewable energy by 2030 — but it will take all hands on deck to get there.
How do we reach these targets?
It is a complex system of strategy and support from governments, industries and individuals, but our focus at this level is on carbon farming. It’s a way of farming that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and sequesters carbon in vegetation and soils while improving productivity and agricultural system resilience. It’s important for production efficiencies, strategic and competitive market positioning, long- term sustainability and resilience, can provide an additional income stream and acts on our ethical and social responsibilities.
What does this mean for South Australian agriculture?
There’s a lot of change happening, which can be really daunting. There are huge implications for production in terms of implementing practices that help utilise rainfall or cope with more intensive rainfall, plus additional changes to farmers coming down through market-driven access. We are supplying commodities and agricultural products to supply chains that are increasingly committed to achieving their climate change goals. For example, companies striving to be carbon neutral are then putting pressure on farmers to respond to those market signals. There’s a lot of expectation on farmers, however, there are opportunities emerging for farmers who can future-proof their business.
How can your team help?
It’s about cutting through some of the noise for Australian farmers. We work to establish what their current greenhouse gas emissions are, how to reduce them, and how that looks in terms of the impact on your profitability and overall emissions,
within a global context. For example, sometimes you think you might need an electric tractor to reduce emissions, but if diesel isn’t a major factor in your overall greenhouse gas emissions, you might be better focussing on another aspect of your farming to reduce them. It’s about helping farmers to understand the best ways to get the biggest impact from making changes. A big part of this is benchmarking. We have the skills to use sustainability indicators in the same way that we use metrics to ensure success. For example, we have the skills to help you break down how many tonnes of greenhouse gas it takes to produce one tonne of beef or grain, so you can look at ways of reducing emissions in the context of also minimising costs.
We also develop e-learning resources and offer workshops in understanding carbon and the sustainability space. Additionally, we also provide advice to farming groups as needed. In Australia, we deliver support through our government programs, but farmers can absolutely come directly to us.
Take action today
So, what can you do today to make a positive impact? Check out some of the many e-learning resources online and tools.
Learn the carbon farming basics - Download the Carbon and Cropping book from graingrowers.com.au
Tap into the Meat & Livestock Australia resources at elearning.mla.com.au
Calculate your carbon footprint - Go to elearning.mla.com.au/tools-calculators
Assess options for carbon farming - Check out https://looc-c.farm/
Get connected - Reach out to community organisations or professionals, like Pinion Advisory, to take action today because every day counts.