Sharing local agricultural knowledge could be a pathway to climate change adaptation

Growing Southern Gippsland aims to help southern Gippsland farmers adapt to the changing climate through collaboration, and do better business in the process.

People who make a living off the land in southern Gippsland have first-hand experience of the changing seasons and rainfall patterns, and understand all too well the effect this has had on their livestock and horticultural practices.

That’s why the Growing Southern Gippsland project is creating a web-based portal through which farmers can learn from one another about their lived experience on the land.

It also provides a means to present relevant new information on climate projections and best practice land-use, at a practical level that farmers can easily relate to.

The project is being led by Joel Geoghegan, Bass Coast Landcare Network, in partnership with Federation University Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science Dr Jessica Reeves and RMIT Professor of International Employment Relations (School of Management) Peter Fairbrother.

“Through this portal, the project hopes to develop a community of practice around sustainable agriculture in southern Gippsland,” said Dr Reeves.

The project, which began in July 2018, is a response to the changing climatic conditions we are experiencing and a need to better understand and elevate the knowledge already held within the region’s communities.

Changes in climate have created issues such as increased heat stress for plants and animals, lower soil moisture, a higher fire risk and a shift in the parasites and pests that the region is subject to.

Growing Southern Gippsland corresponds with a commitment from Bass Coast Shire to assist in tackling these challenges.

“Bass Coast Shire have declared a climate emergency, and also for our farming to be carbon neutral within the next ten years,” Dr Reeves said.

“So they are actively supporting any programs that they can see can help towards that ambition.”

Bass Coast Shire Council are a partner in the project alongside the South Gippsland Landcare Network, and funding has been provided by the Victorian State Government (DELWP) through the Victorian Centre for Climate Change Innovation.

“Both Bass Coast and South Gippsland and their networks have a really solid community base," said Dr Reeves.

"Being able to leverage off that gives us an in to community that we would have never had otherwise."

Growing Southern Gippsland will better enable researchers to learn from farmers’ experiences on the land, while farmers will be able to tap into science and business expertise to help them adapt to these changes as effectively as possible.

“Of course farming is not just a practical exercise in land management, it is also a business,” Dr Reeves said.

“While farmers are meeting these seasonal challenges, what is often overlooked is the socio-economic impacts, product shifts, and impacts on marketing and distribution that are also influenced by a changing climate.”

The proposed portal will enable farmers to keep better track of what works and what doesn’t in terms of land management practices in the region.

“If they’re going to change their practices, they haven’t really got the evidence base to be able to assess whether it was a good idea or not,” Dr Reeves said.

“Even the ones that were doing really fantastic practices couldn’t quantify it, and these things are all affecting their bottom line.”

The project includes a series of interviews with 30 farmers across southern Gippsland representing different enterprise and landform types, 12 targeted case study reports, six field days and the portal, which includes associated multimedia products.

“The portal will be available for soft launch in April where we’re going to be testing it with our farmer groups, and will be fully delivered in June,” Dr Reeves said.

The goal is to enable southern Gippsland’s communities, environment and agricultural businesses to become more resilient and prosperous in the face of a changing climate.

Dr Reeves sees the development of the portal as a first step in an ongoing process, with opportunities to expand the concept to the rest of Gippsland by keeping in mind the specific conditions of this diverse region.

“We know that broader Gippsland is already really interested in this. So they don’t just want Growing Southern Gippsland, they want Growing Gippsland,’ Dr Reeves said.

“That’s because obviously the issues in Gippsland are very very different to those in south Gippsland.”