DCAP: Filling the missing link

Drought and climate events place an enormous strain on Queensland’s agriculture industry – an industry that makes an estimated $18.5 billion contribution to the state’s economy.

This episode of Turf ‘n’ Surf looks at how Queensland’s producers are managing climate events like drought, how science is helping producers adapt and what the Queensland Government is doing to support the state’s producers through the Drought and Climate Adaptation Program (DCAP).

You’ll hear from a 40-year veteran of Queensland’s agriculture industry, Rick Sutton, who runs three farms in the Lockyer Valley; Dr Chelsea Jarvis, a research fellow from the University of Southern Queensland’s Centre for Applied Climate Sciences and Neil Cliffe, Senior Industry Development Officer with Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Find out how the DCAP is helping producers adapt and better manage drought and climate impacts.

Listen to the podcast.

Meet our guests

Chelsea Jarvis Chelsea Jarvis
Neil Cliffe Neil Cliffe
Rick Sutton Rick Sutton

Program intro: Welcome to Turf and Surf, powered by Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, shaping and protecting food and fibre for tomorrow’s Queensland.

Host: In the early twentieth century Catholic priest and bush poet, Patrick Joseph Hartigan, wrote a poem about the endless natural cycle of droughts, floods and bushfires in rural Australia.

“We’ll all be ruined said Hanrahan before the year is out” was a recurring lament of the perpetually pessimistic farmer Hanrahan as he battled flooding rains, drought and bushfires.

A century after the poem’s earliest known publication in 1919, Queensland’s producers still face the same climate-related challenges as Hanrahan.

However, their effects have intensified due to our changing climate. Drought, in particular, places an enormous strain on Queensland agriculture industry. An industry that makes an estimated $18.5 billion contribution to the state’s economy.

I’m Brad Muir. In this episode of Turf and Surf, we’ll look at how Queensland’s producers are managing the devastating effects of drought, how science is helping producers cope with drought and what the Queensland Government is doing to support the state’s drought ravaged producers.

Program segue: You’re listening to Turf and Surf, the official podcast of Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. Shaping and protecting food and fibre for tomorrow’s Queensland.

Host: Rick Sutton is a 40 year veteran of Queensland’s agriculture Industry.

Rick runs three farms covering about 280 hectares in the Lockyer Valley. His farms produce cherry tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, shallots and wombok.

Thanks for your time Rick. Tell me a bit about your business. How many people do you employ, what months of the year do you grow?

Rick Sutton: We employ around 80 staff and also another 70 to 80 in harvest crews. We crop for 12 months of the year, we supply chain to major chains stores.

Host: Rick I can hear in your voice the toll the drought is taking on you personally and I’d like to touch on that shortly. But in the meantime, how is the drought affecting your business?

Rick Sutton: It’s made work a lot more difficult.

The cost of production has increased due to extra labour required, extra pumping and irrigation costs and some changes in irrigation as well.

Some of the technology we used has changed. We’ve switched over to almost 100 percent drip irrigation to conserve water and make it last longer.

Host: So Rick if we can just backpedal there for a moment, we know that drought just doesn’t impact land, animals and vegetable crops, it also affects the people who live and work on the land. Could you tell us what impacts the drought has had on you and your staff?

Rick Sutton: It’s led to a lot longer working hours. It’s added a lot of stress to be honest with managing the situation and dealing with relentless dry weather.

It impacts cash flows and profitabilities. So it’s got a huge impact on the people and management and staff as well.

Host: Rick how do you manage those effects?

Rick Sutton: Everyone has to work that bit harder. Everyone has to work that bit longer. You have to be very diligent with management.

We’re talking about a lot of staff and a lot of money so if we have any major blowouts in cost of production it greatly affects cash flows and profitabilities and things like that. So it can be very difficult to deal with.

Host: The Drought on Climate Adaptation Program was established to help producers like yourself to better manage drought and climate impacts. How has this program helped you?

Rick Sutton: It’s helped a lot in planning. I think it’s got a lot of potential to greatly improve productivity and a better use of water.

Now that the drought has stretched on as long as it has, we are starting to run into severe water shortages.

So, we are actually starting to rely heavily on forecasts and it’s very important that they’re very accurate because we are basing cropping programs and cash flows to the banks and gross margins of crops and things like that, we are basing those on these forecasts.

For example, as the forecast suggests the current coming summer looks like being again, hot and dry.

So we then go and make up models on the computer and run those through on the water requirements of the different crops, the approximate areas that we need to grow, or want to grow, because supply chain stores and just see how they come out as far as water requirements.

And also we use the temperature modelling to see whether it’ll be just too hot to grow a certain crop at a certain time and therefore if we think we’re going to run out of water, or it’s going to be too hot for the crop, we either cut back or don’t grow that crop and hopefully therefore save any cost production from failed crops.

Host: Rick, you’re using the DCAP Hort Projects experimental forecast long time lead forecast, tell us a bit about how they work and how useful they’ve been for you.

Rick Sutton: They’ve been very useful. We use them at all stages during the year.

We do very detailed planning on crop production. We supply the chain stores and they need guarantees of supply, they don’t want to be let down. We have to give them good information and we need good data from as many sources as possible to come up with these programs.

They’re very involved and very detailed cropping programs. For example, we use the temperature forecast for this winter to take our cherry tomato production through winter this season because of there was slightly warmer overnight temperatures.

Even though it was dry, we were still able to have a very productive cropping program for cherry tomatoes.

Host: If you didn’t have that support and information available to you, where do you think you and your business would be right now?

Rick Sutton: We’d be dealing blindly. They’d be a lot more complexity and a lot more guesswork to be honest.

But without it, you’re relying on experience and as much information as you can glean from other sources and sometimes that’s quite unreliable.

Program segue: This Turf and Surf podcast is powered by Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, shaping and protecting food and fibre for tomorrow’s Queensland.

Host: On this episode of Turf and Surf, we’re looking at the effects of drought on Queensland’s primary producers and what’s being done to help them adapt to the challenges posed by our changing climate.

Dr Chelsea Jarvis is a research fellow in the University of Southern Queensland’s Centre for Applied Climate Sciences. USQ is one of the major partners in the Queensland Government’s Drought and Climate Adaptation Program or DCAP.

As part of that program, Dr Jarvis oversees the delivery of the northern Australian climate program.

Thanks for being with us Chelsea. Tell us about USQ’s involvement in DCAP.

Chelsea Jarvis: So USQ, I got involved with the Drought and Climate Adaptation Program, or DCAP, mainly through the Northern Australia Climate Program which I’ll refer to as NACP.

The Northern Australia Climate Program aims to improve seasonal climate forecasting specifically for the red meat industry across northern Australia. So that’s Queensland, Northern Territory and northern Western Australia.

One of our major funding partners is Meat and Livestock Australia, so that’s why we focus mainly on the red meat industry.

Host: With that focus on the red meat industry, how does the program actually work and what benefits do producers get from it?

Chelsea Jarvis: So the main focus of the Northern Australia Climate Program is to improve seasonal climate forecasting, as I mentioned, and the way that we do that is through a really well integrated program that includes research, development and then also extension.

So our research component is mainly run by the Bureau of Meteorology and the UK Met Office and we actually have employees from the University of Southern Queensland embedded at both those institutions. They are working directly with those institutions on the Northern Australia Climate Program.

And the importance of this is that in our climate models we actually need to optimise the computer code that goes into these models for different regions. And by having people embedded in the BOM or the UK Met Office, we can guarantee that they are making sure that our climate forecasts and weather forecasts are being optimised for northern Australia which is something that hasn’t actually been done before.

Because we work with the Bureau of Meteorology and the UK Met Office directly, we can develop prototype products like seasonal climate forecasts specifically for our red meat producers across northern Australia.

This is really important and actually contributes a lot to our development segment of the Northern Australia Climate Program where we are expected to deliver specific products that will help producers provide them with more information at times of the year that’s meaningful for them, such as seasonal mustering time or calving time, and also then we have our extension component where we connect all that research and development that’s being done by the Bureau of Meteorology and the UK Met Office directly to the producers.

And this is carried out by regionally embedded extension specialists that we call climate mates. So the climate mates connect scientists to the producers and they also connect the producers back to the scientists.

So any feedback we receive from the producers about these products of forecast that we are developing can go directly back to the people at the Bureau of Meteorology and the UK Met Office that make the changes in our forecast.

Host: Chelsea, you touched on something really interesting there, and it’s a fascinating aspect of USQ’s involvement in DCAP, the climate mates. Who are they, what do they do, how do they help producers?

Chelsea Jarvis: The climate mates are extension specialists with the Northern Australia Climate Program but they are very unique in that they were hired specifically for their networks in their regions, so they are regionally located people, quite a few of them are located on their own station on their own property that they manage and we hired them, like I said, for their networks.

So, generally, past extension programs for example tend to hire scientists from sort of the cities and then they send them out to rural and regional areas to talk to producers. So there’s always sort of a time where it takes to build trust.

Whereas with the climate mates we’ve actually skipped that step, they’re already well-known in their communities, they already have an intimate knowledge of the local environment, the local soils, the local production and so we actually build on that knowledge and just give them a bit of training in climate and seasonal forecasts and then essentially provide them support to talk to people that they already know and explain the products that we’re trying to get some feedback on, these products that the Bureau of Meteorology and UK Met Office are developing.

So it’s a really interesting and unique approach to doing extension and because the producers are on their own station we actually get direct contact then with producers who can say, hey this product isn’t going to work because it’s for the wrong time of year, or this product isn’t going to work for this reason, or I actually need something that’ll tell me when the wet season is going to break because that’s really important to me.

And so they can really guide and shape our research and development components.

Host: Tapping into that local knowledge and networks is a really important part of climate mates, and it seems that the Northern Australia Climate Program and climate mates are delivering great outcomes for producers.

As someone who’s dynamically involved in those programs, what positive outcomes are you seeing for other parts of the community?

Chelsea Jarvis: One of the really great things about the climate mates, is that they are able to connect with people in the community both sort of in workshop settings and also in one-on-ones.

And by taking these different approaches we can actually really target our products for producers and this is, as you mentioned, a really great key component of the Northern Australia Climate Program.

So some of the outcomes we’re seeing are things like climate forecasts now being integrated into management decisions, people possibly considering even buying property in other areas based on long-term seasonal climate outlooks and just other things that have been observed.

But probably the main thing that climate mates have been really influential in bringing out in the producers is essentially just using the technology that is already available. In this case we usually point out things like METEYE which is a seven day forecast or I’ll say the Bureau of Meteorology also does seasonal climate forecasts that are issued every two weeks I believe and helping producers find and bookmark what these webpages can then help them inform their decisions.

And so things like when to burn or possibly when to spray or what the season is going to be look like, you know, should they expect rain, should they not expect rain?

This climate information, along with other information such as pasture growth or how the cattle markets are doing, all of that can be used together to help the producer make more informed decisions and hopefully increase their bottom line.

Host: As a producer this all sounds very exciting, the key question is how do I get on board?

Chelsea Jarvis: So NACP has its own website which is nacp.org.au and a lot of information about the program can be found there including the monthly climate outlook that we issue and that summarises sort of the season to come for the next three months and it’s issued monthly and you can either download it off of our website or else you can have it sent directly to your email if you prefer.

We also have all the contact information for the climate mates, so you can find your regional climate mates and contact them directly by email and they’re more than happy to come out to your property and show you some of our great products or talk to you about how you can integrate the seasonal forecasts into your decision-making.

Program segue: You are listening to Turf and Surf, the official podcast of Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries shaping and protecting food and fibre for tomorrow’s Queensland.

Host: On this episode of Turf and Surf, we’re talking about the effects of drought on Queensland’s primary producers and what’s being done to help them adapt to the challenges posed by our changing climate.

The Drought and Climate Adaptation Program, or DCAP, is a Queensland government initiative to help producers better manage drought and climate impacts.

Neil Cliffe is a DCAP Program Manager with Queensland’s Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. Part of Neil’s role is to ensure that DCAP projects support primary producers to better manage drought and climate variability and adapt to the changing climate.

Thanks for joining us Neil. We’ve already heard about a couple of aspects of the DCAP program, but it’s a much broader initiative involving a number of partners.

Could you give us an overall view of DCAP, what the program’s about, who’s involved in it and how do those partners contribute to DCAP?

Neil Cliffe: Look the DCAP program has three significant objectives and the first one is around supporting primary producers to respond and become more resilient to drought and cope with drought more effectively and the second one is about managing climate variability more effectively, so that could be floods, droughts or any significant climate events, and thirdly to adapt to a changing climate.

So those three objectives, although reasonably simple to talk about and raise, are pretty challenging in effect to actually do anything sensible and useful about.

Host: How does DCAP actually help producers improve their preparedness for drought and their resilience?

Neil Cliffe: DCAP involves a number of key partners and we’re working with those partners who include our own organisations, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Department of Environment and Science and the University of Southern Queensland along with a whole range of other partners including the Bureau of Meteorology and the United Kingdom Met Office and many many others and we have got nine projects which are supporting agriculture across Queensland and across northern Australia effectively to address those goals and outcomes of DCAP that I talked about.

Some of those projects are directly working with producers. In fact all of them have direct links with producers so what they’re doing is informed by what producers want and that’s very important in terms of making the information and the tools and other aspects of things that might help producers make decisions relevant to those producer decisions on the ground.

Host: So can you give us a brief overview of some of the key programs in DCAP?

Neil Cliffe: Some of the key projects are working on improved forecasting across northern Australia and forecasting from extreme events.

So what are the severe flood events, severe dry events, heat wave events and improving the modelling around those. So there’s been huge steps in climate modelling and forecasting in recent years and we’re working to make that model more useful, more skilful across northern Australia and then importantly creating forecasts that producers want.

So it’s about improving the model but also improving the forecasts and making them available and useful for producers. So that’s one aspect in the applied research role.

Importantly though, we’ve got key extension projects working within the program and within projects and they’re working directly with producers on the ground, running workshops, providing information, doing webinars, a whole range of outlets I suppose which producers can tap into to get that sort of information that might be useful for them to manage drought and manage climate variability.

As an example, one of the projects is a grazing economics project and it’s working with DAF extension staff and producers to actually look at analysing beef production systems and looking at the options in those systems and looking at the profitability or otherwise of those options and they’re working within discrete regions across the state, looking at five different regions and the outputs are being received really well by industry and producers in particular.

And it’s filling the missing link, I think, in terms of the production aspects of the business but also informing producers about the economics of those different options, so whether it might be phosphorus supplementation or introducing new legume component or other aspects of their beef business, how profitable is it investing in those options, how long will it take to get a payback and etcetera.

So those things are very important and its traditionally, we’ve had a lot of experience in the production and technology area, but this is a missing link in terms of economics which we are plugging.

Host: So DCAP is providing a lot of very useful information that producers can tap into to take the guesswork out of managing their business during drought. Where can producers go to find out more about DCAP?

Neil Cliffe: The flagship information portal for DCAP and for climate information in Queensland is the Long Paddock website and it’s at longpaddock.qld.gov.au and producers can access that website.

There is a DCAP tab on that website and all the activities that are happening in DCAP are covered in there. The projects are described, there’s links to webinars and other reports and resources as well as a whole range of information about climate variability and how producers can manage that more effectively and so producers can access that at any time.

And we’ve also got an e-newsletter for DCAP in particular and producers can subscribe to that and get continual updates on what’s happening in the projects and actively engage and involve themselves in projects that are working in their areas where that’s applicable.

Program outro: You’ve been listening to Turf and Surf. Turf and Surf is produced by the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries. For more information or to subscribe, visit our website at daf.qld.gov.au.