Sceptic on weather rollercoaster

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman
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During the past five seasons, farmers at Salmon Gums have certainly had a wild ride when it comes to weather.

In 2008, crops in some areas were wiped out after enormous hail storms and heavy rain decimated crops ready to harvest.

The next year was a good cropping year in terms of yield, but wheat prices suffered.

That was followed by a dry year in 2010.

Then last year was the worst cropping season many of the area's farmers had seen, with below average rains which, when they did fall, came at the wrong time.

Some would say those years in Salmon Gums typify the kind of variability that scientists predict is set to occur with climate change, but local farmer Andrew Longmire disagrees that they represent climate change.

Instead, like many of the fellow farmers in the area, he believes the wild weather is simply a pattern which has occurred before and is likely to happen again.

But he has noticed more summer rainfall over the past 20 years - and if that is part of climate change, it's one aspect that's not necessarily a bad thing. "Summer rainfall, if you can handle the weeds, is very beneficial," Andrew said.

"Having that summer rain is good because we're not relying so much on frontal rain coming through which we don't usually get much of here."

Andrew is confident that farmers can continue to adapt to changing conditions, particularly because they already use so many risk mitigation strategies.

But if conditions are set to become more variable, Andrew would like to see an improvement in the accuracy of long-range forecasting so growers could make tactical decisions earlier in the season.

"If there is such a thing as climate change, reliable scheme water would definitely be a big yes for Salmon Gums," Andrew said.

"We should be getting a pipeline up from Esperance or down from Norseman to help drought-proof the area. You can always bring in feed for stock but it's hard to keep water up.

"The other thing that could help is getting varieties that might have better drought stress and in drought years you're always going to get frost, so better frost tolerance."

Climate change profile *

·Annual rainfall has increased by 5 per cent, but growing season rainfall has declined by 2 per cent from 1974-2000 and a further 2 per cent in the past decade.

·The chance of two consecutive drought years has increased from 5 per cent during 1939-1974 to 14 per cent during 1975-2000.

·There has been a significant decline in June rainfall and a significant increase in November rainfall.

·Mean monthly minimum temperatures have increased in all months; number of frost days has decreased.

·The average break of the season has remained the same at June 3.

·Climate projections indicate growing season rainfall will continue to contract, while summers will become wetter. <div class="endnote">

Haidee Vandenberghe </div>

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