THE CLIMATE KELPIE BLOG: Meet the expert – Neil Cliffe, Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries
What does your job involve?
Oversight of the Drought and Climate Adaptation Program (DCAP) which is delivering a diverse range of RD&E projects in collaboration with state, national and international partners, to improve the capacity of the Queensland agriculture sector to manage drought and climate variability, and adapt to climate change. A critical component of the job is ensuring that RD&E outcomes from the program are relevant to agriculture decision-making at a property management level by farmers, associated decision makers and their service providers.
What climate drivers do Queensland farmers need to have a good understanding of?
The dominant climate driver impacting on Queensland agriculture is El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), with El Niño and La Niña events having profound effects on the capacity of farmers across the sector to operate productively and profitably. Droughts and other extreme climate events including floods and tropical cyclones are natural features of the climate Queensland experiences, with their frequency often connected to the timing of different ENSO events.
A longer-term background climate driver, the Inter-decadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO), can act to amplify or dampen ENSO effects depending on whether it is in a negative or positive phase. If the IPO is strongly positive, El Niño events may be amplified. Conversely, if the IPO is strongly negative, El Niño events may be moderated in their impact, particularly on rainfall.
A major intra-seasonal climate driver impacting on Queensland is the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) or 40 day wave, which can impact on the timing of rainfall events and fine, dry periods, as the wave of lower than normal atmospheric pressure moves across northern Australia. The MJO is more active in northern Australia during spring and summer and can also influence and help to initiate the development of tropical cyclones.
Farmers can benefit from an understanding of the ENSO cycle and particularly the seasonal rainfall probabilities which vary during El Niño, La Niña and neutral stages and how position of the MJO over northern Australia may impact on the likelihood of rainfall occurring in the short to medium term. This understanding and regular monitoring of seasonal climate outlooks allows Queensland farmers to fine tune property management decisions at operational, tactical and strategic scales with rainfall probabilities and temperature outlooks in mind.
What are the types of decisions that Queensland farmers make where they should be referring to seasonal climate forecasts?
Examples across the Queensland agriculture sector where seasonal climate forecast information can add value to decision making processes at a range of time scales and lead times are many and varied. Some examples include:
Grazing industry decisions – marketing (buying/selling livestock), paddock and property stocking rate manipulation, timing of pasture improvement investments, property/water infrastructure investment, property purchase, etc.
Sugar industry decisions – irrigation management, harvesting management, ratoon management, planting, nutrient management, machinery and infrastructure investment, marketing, etc.
Cropping industry decisions – crop/variety selection, planting configuration, fallow management, marketing, etc.
What’s been the biggest change that you’ve seen in seasonal climate forecasting over your career?
Public accessibility to a wide range of statistical and dynamical climate model output which allows the user to compare and contrast seasonal climate outlooks independently and without relying on one individual reference source of expertise.
Where do you see seasonal climate forecasting heading in the future?
Dynamical models appear to hold a great deal of promise in being able to improve the skill of seasonal climate forecasting at longer lead times. If this promise is fulfilled, the Australian agriculture sector will be much better placed to manage climate variability and the production, financial and environmental risks that drought and climate extremes present to farmers currently. Furthermore, the sectoral capacity to adapt to climate change impacts will also be improved.
How can a farmer contact you and what questions can you help them answer?
With a focus on the agriculture sector in Queensland, I can help you answer these questions:
- How do I use seasonal climate forecasting in farm management decision making?
- Where do I access seasonal climate forecasting information relevant to my region and situation?
- How do I learn more about climate risk and climate variability and the impact on my farm business?
- What are the likely impacts of climate change on my region and possible adaptation options?
I have access to a diverse national and international network of RD&E funding agencies, project partners and contacts working across the climate variability, drought resilience and climate change adaptation climate applications area, to which I can refer to provide information, support and assistance.
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