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Farmers locking horns with climate change 

Anika Molesworth
Anika Molesworth

Farmers are starting to agitate for action on climate and they’re getting smarter and more innovative to cope with the challenges it presents. According to young award winning farmer, Anika Molesworth, expect to hear more from this sector. 

Sustainable agriculture champion, Anika Molesworth, says that Australian farmers should be looking at wind and solar farms to help them survive drought and other “bad times”.

Molesworth, one of the founding members of Farmers for Climate Action and winner of the Young Sustainability Champion Award at the 2018 Green Globe awards, told The Fifth Estate that wind and solar projects make sense for Australian farms because they are some of the “sunniest and windiest places on earth”. 

Beyond putting solar panels in paddocks, there’s a number of changes farmers can make to become more resilient to climate change impacts.

Molesworth says adaptable farmers are “open minded about what farming means” and think beyond traditional practices.

Spinifex can be turned into condoms (as latex)

For example, researchers from the University of Queensland have found a way to turn native spinifex grass – a tough plant and it has evolved to survive hot conditions – to make latex for condoms.

Molesworth says that “more science and more research” will uncover more sustainable farming practices, but unfortunately research tends to focus on the highly fertile regions and forget about the arid regions. 

But she says there are a few innovative players bucking the trend, such as Sundrop Farms, which has set up a commercial-scale hydroponic farm in the arid, desert-like conditions of Port Augusta in South Australia.

The farm grows vegetables in trays of nutrient-rich water under LEDs. Known as hydroponic technology, this process takes a lot of energy. Accordingly, the roof is covered in solar panels that meet most of the facility’s energy needs.

Anika Molesworth. Photo: Louise Whelan

Farmers as custodians of the land 

What many don’t realise, Molesworth says, is that “farmers play an important role in looking after the land”

 She says if these lands were not farmed, then they are at risk of outbreaks of weeds and pests.  

“People who don’t manage the land end up with a business that crumbles. The [land is the] natural building blocks. So you absolutely have to look after your land and your business.”

Urgent action is needed 

Molesworth would like to see policy makers implement sustainable farming schemes, and the matter is urgent.

“It is becoming harder and harder, records are being smashed. There is no wiggle room left anymore,” she says. 

She says that the chorus of troubled voices is rising, and people are starting to “feel let down” by the current leadership.

“If you stand up for rural Australia it means putting in place long term policies to have viable farming businesses. 

“But unfortunately, I do think there is a lot of deliberate deafness. The science is coming out and there are ecosystems collapsing as we speak.”

In October, Farmers for Climate Action and The Next Economy released a report backed by thousands of farmers and rural Australians calling for a national plan to tackle the threats that climate change poses to regional Australia.  

Launched outside Parliament House in Canberra, the Rural Futures Report highlighted opportunities to address climate challenges, such as installing renewable energy projects on farm land, carbon farming and water quality initiatives.

Farmers getting on the front foot on climate 

Farmers live and work closely with the environment; they know when the temperatures are rising and the weather patterns are changing – they can just look out the kitchen window.

In the past, Australians from farms and regional areas were more likely than the rest of the population to reject climate science. But according to recent research in The Conversation, attitudes are starting to shift, and more farmers than ever before are starting to recognise that climate change is a very real danger to their livelihoods.

She says that farmers are indeed embracing change and innovating to address climate change-related threats.

“It’s a common misconception that we’re just a bunch of farmers kicking around in the dirt.” 

On her family’s arid outback sheep station in far western NSW, for example, they use drones and other new technologies.

“There’s a lot of the technology and innovation in this industry. That is a message I’d really like to get out there. People want to get into it, they want to involve themselves.”

Everybody needs to get involved

Molesworth says Australians need to “stop operating in silos” and tackle these problems collaboratively. 

“There are some big challenges and we need the best minds looking at farming food and sustainability.” 

Molesworth would also like to see more people in cities engaging with the food and farming sectors.

“We need people to think how their choices impact the farmer.” 

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