THE CLIMATE KELPIE BLOG: Meet the expert – Graeme Anderson, Agriculture Victoria

Posted by BCG on 25th June 2018

What does your job involve?

I grew up on a farm and have been working in science extension, adoption and practice change for 30 years. The last 15 years has seen my role focus more on seasonal risk and climate change and getting the science in the hands of farmers. In Agriculture Victoria, we developed the ClimateDogs to explain key climate drivers. I also support our team to produce ‘The Break’ seasonal updates, deep soil moisture probe network and our Agriculture Victoria climate webinar series. Together we speak at 100 rural events each year to improve climate literacy and understanding of our weather patterns, so that farmers and industry can plan to deal with the seasons and longer-term changes that are coming our way.

What are the most important climate drivers Victorian and South Australian farmers should have a good understanding of?

Over the last 10 years it’s been great to understand more about what affects our region’s wetter and drier seasons. We know the moisture sources are important in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, so the drier phases (El Niño and IOD (Indian Ocean Dipole) positive) and wetter phases (La Niña and IOD negative) have their fingerprints all over our winter and spring rainfall. The rainfall triggers are all about the battle between SAM (Southern Annular Mode) fronts and the STR (Subtropical ridge).

What are some of the decisions Victorian and South Australian farmers make where they should be referring to seasonal climate forecasts?

I think seasonal forecasts are a useful ten percenter. As with all forecasts, nothing can be predicted for certain, but making sure you can tap into expert commentary so you understand what sits behind a forecast is important. Seasonal forecasts might only be really useful once every two or three years, but when they are they can provide great insights for farmers to map out the plan a, b and c for things like fertiliser applications, planting decisions, stock, fodder and water planning.  In the years when things swing towards drier or wetter, the value of forecasts can be important along the supply chain to make sure the we have all the inputs (like fertiliser and fungicides) needed to manage logistics.

What’s been the biggest change that you’ve seen in seasonal climate forecasting over your career?

The fact you can stand in a paddock and look up Sea Surface Temperature (SST) maps in an instant is pretty amazing, but I think the commentary that comes from Dale Grey and ‘The Fast Break’ with the multi-model outlook table that compares 11 global models is one of my favourites – it’s like a footy tipping sheet and I think it’s a useful way to quickly get across the state of the global forecasts for our part of the world. What is also terrific is the improvement that we see in farmer and advisor knowledge in something as important as seasonal climate. It’s also terrific to see how the scientists at the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) are working to improve forecasts and they’re very generous with their time, explaining the latest with those of us in agriculture.

Where do you see seasonal climate forecasting heading in the future?

It will require effort to keep connecting the science to farmers and making sure that the commentary on seasonal outlooks is done well. While understanding what forecasts can and can’t do is important, the key thing is around what decisions that farmers and advisors can make to better manage seasonal risk. So, the forecasts will keep coming, but the key issue will be around what tools and tactics we have to manage variability amidst a more volatile climate and keep farm businesses successful and growing. I think seasonal forecasting and on-farm management of seasonal risks will become even more important as climate change really starts to kick in to gear.

How can a farmer contact you and what questions can you help them answer?

I’m on twitter @climatedogs and our team is always contactable via The.Break@ecodev.vic.gov.au and people can find our products at http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/weather-and-climate