THE CLIMATE KELPIE BLOG: Better decisions flow as climate skills grow

Posted by BCG on 28th June 2019

Climate risk tools play an important role in helping primary producers to understand climate drivers and their impact on the seasonal outlook. These skills take time to build, with long-term users more confident in using the tools to manage seasonal risk.

In a recent survey of subscribers to The Break seasonal climate risk newsletter more than 90 per cent of the 860 survey participants said the information it contained had improved their ability to make decisions to manage seasonal risk. More than 80 per cent said it had helped them improve farm profitability.

I have made important business decisions on information gathered from different sources and supported by seasonal events and predictions. The Break is essential information for my farm business.

– The Break subscriber

The Break newsletter has been produced by Agriculture Victoria since 2006, and thanks to Grains Research and Development Corporation investment there are now versions for South Australia, southern NSW and Tasmania.

Although tailored towards grain growers, it has found an appreciative audience across many agricultural industries. As one subscriber commented; “(The Break) provides some explanation of the science and data and an indication of how reliable the forecasts are.”

Science with a dash of humour

Originally a monthly email newsletter provided throughout the growing season, the offering has now expanded to include short YouTube update videos and the more in-depth quarterly climate webinars.

The blend of different formats has helped The Break successfully appeal to a broad range of users. In fact, nearly 70 per cent of survey participants open every single edition of the newsletter and Fast Break video.

We have changed our emphasis on the different enterprises input mix especially when facing the prospect of a particularly dry year.

– The Break subscriber

Some prefer the email newsletter because they can absorb the information at their own pace and it is less dependent on having a good internet connection. Others appreciate the quick and light hearted approach to the YouTube videos. As one subscriber noted; “(It) has all the information, is entertaining and memorable.”

“The YouTube videos allow us to get a lot of highly technical information across in a short time,” says Agriculture Victoria project manager Graeme Anderson. “They are very accessible and work well with the quirky style of The Break. We know that everyone has different learning styles so providing our information in different ways is really valuable.”

Image 1: The very fast Break YouTube videos are designed to deliver highly technical information quickly.

While fewer subscribers tune in to the webinars they were still considered very valuable. Survey comments included; “Generally, I prefer to join the webinars as there is the option to ask questions,” and “they provide in-depth information and its easier than reading.” But users acknowledged that poor internet access was a problem at times.

Impact on profitability

Importantly, the survey has shown that tools such as The Break, which help primary producers to understand climate variability, can have a real impact on business profitability.

Participants who had subscribed for more than five years were more confident than new subscribers in their understanding of the climate drivers and how they impact rainfall variability in their area.

Sometimes we might adjust the amount of a particular crop up or down in hectares.

– The Break subscriber

“Every season is different,” says Mr Anderson. “Over time people build their understanding and have a better appreciation of when and where various climate drivers have had an impact on their season. We are all learning together.”

Producers were using the information in The Break to help make decisions throughout the year.

Grain growers who participated in the survey said that the information in The Break had helped them make decisions around the balance of cereals versus canola and pulses, especially when combining longer term forecasts with actual stored soil moisture reserves. Later in the season they are using the information to plan fungicide and nitrogen applications and make decisions about forward selling of grain.

Although initially aimed at the grains industry, many other producers get useful information from The Break.

Livestock producers make decisions about whether to hold or reduce stock numbers, the timing of joining or fertiliser application and whether to buy in additional feed.

Tools such as The Break that help producers to understand climate risk play an important part in business decision making.

We decided not to purchase replacement ewes and culled all the old ewes to keep the flock to a minimum, due to the dry spring/summer and potential dry autumn forecast. The Break helped us make the right decision.

– The Break subscriber

The Climate Kelpie website provides access to a broad range of decision support tools to help producers manage climate risk.

Contact

Graeme Anderson, 03 5226 4821, graeme.anderson@ecodev.vic.gov.au