A warning to the NSW State government about the potential for climate change to affect the economy of rural towns reliant on agricultural income

by David Holland (Grad. Dip Env. Mngt. B.A.S. Env. Planning)

 

I was alerted in recent news about cotton growers in Moree who have had good rains earlier in the year and were expecting a good crop of cotton this year. They were expecting 3.5 bales of cotton a hectare. To compare this with the top producers in 2012-13 this figure is well down on the 12 bales per hectare in this year and only 5 years ago at a time when the yield earned Australia in 2011 $3 billion from the trade. At the time, Australia was the 3rd largest exporter of cotton in the world and produced a high-quality product.

Due to recent hot weather in the Moree region and adjacent regions, estimates of the crop have dropped to 2 bales per hectare. This is possibly due to several factors but the hot day time temperatures would be one of the major factors in stressing the plant during the formation of the boll filling. This would often reduce the quality of the cotton and causes micronaire problems. Any temperatures above 35 degrees will shut down photosynthesis and effectively starve the plant.

During the summer of 2017 there have been a good many days above this temperature. But potentially more damaging to the cotton plant is high night time temperatures which continues the maintenance respiration of the plant through the night to keep it cool. This does not allow the plant to recover from the previous day further reduce the energy in the plant leading to underdeveloped fruit. (Holland, D, (2016) p. 12)

With a climate change scenario developing in NSW, the cotton industry which provides a large amount of Australia’s balance of trade, likely to be hard hit over the next few years, the State government should not only be aware of the issues related to the cotton industry, but start to be proactive to ensure that the industry can adapt to these new permanently changing climate conditions.

There are many rural towns that rely heavily on the profits from the cotton trade. If the cotton trade is damaged by the effects of climate change, then many of these rural towns will be financially effected. The State government and planners need to ensure that farmers and the industry finds ways to adapt so that towns reliant on this industry are not adversely affected economically by climate change in these regions.

I also heard a separate but related news item recently about the increased propensity of farmers taking out crop insurance. They are insuring against crop failures. In a climate change scenario in the cotton industry there will be a greater prevalence of farmers claiming insurance on crop failure and hoping against hope that the weather patterns will reverse and good crops will come again. This may happen for a time, but if a region is in the grip of climate change adverse to the crop in question a range of undesirable financial impacts are likely.

  1. Farmers will continue to farm as they have done and experience more failures.
  2. Farms that have no longer the right conditions for a crop will continue without considering new more viable locations to farm.
  3. Insurance premiums will continue to rise as more farmers call on the insurance to service their financial needs in the year of failed crop.
  4. At some point communities will be in a crisis where insurance is too high for the next year’s crop and crop failure is inevitable. This will potentially cause a town to decline in a fast and unexpected manner at some point.

The State government needs to consider the subject of farm insurance and the viability of the cotton industry in certain areas. If crop failure becomes the norm, then Australia will no longer have such an export bonanza through the cotton industry.

Reference:

Holland, D., (2016), The Cotton Growing Industry near Bourke NSW, A future with Climate Change, Habitat Association, WordPress web site, https://habitatassociation.files.wordpress.com/2016/12/cotton-bourke2.pdf, cited 2017.

 

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