Key industries consider climate impacts

This week’s climate change forum in Batlow brought together industry, experts and, government and the general public.

Department of Primary Industries Development Officer for Temperate Fruits, Kevin Dodds, has labelled the climate change forum hosted by Snowy Valleys Council in Batlow on Monday an “important first step” towards developing a strategy for climate change mitigation.

The consultation featured a panel of key primary production industry representatives who shared their expertise and discussed the issue with a reasonable crowd.

“Snowy Valleys Council Climate Change Forum was a good initiative of the council and particular acknowledgement should go to Cr Dr Geoff Pritchard who recommended the idea to council in the first instance,” Mr Dodds said.

“I thought the forum was a good starting point for a longer process that will inform SVC’s climate change policy and strategy.

“It brought together local and visiting representatives with expertise relating to climate change, community and industries of the shire. 

Mr Dodds, who lives in Tumut, works as a Development Officer with NSW Department of Primary Industries, working specifically with local apple, cherry and stonefruit farmers.

He has also worked in softwood forest research in the past, so possesses an appreciation of the climate requirements for both the fruit and wood fibre industries of the Snowy Valleys.

“I believe it is very important that all agriculture, horticulture, forestry and amenity landuse stakeholders continue to engage on climate change adaptation in the Snowy Valleys region and the council-led forum is probably a good vehicle to facilitate this engagement,” he said.

“The discussions were a very important first step towards addressing the need for a clear strategy for climate change mitigation and adaption for Snowy Valleys.

“Having key industry stakeholders together for this forum was a good thing to do.

“I think Council will now have some additional focus on the road ahead and a greater awareness of the important climate change implications that need to be considered for both community and industry.”

Despite its productivity, Mr Dodds expressed concern at the number of members of the public in attendance. 

“Whilst this was a public forum, I felt the attendance by the general public was quite low considering the importance and topical nature of the climate change subject,” he said.

“It could be that the wider community were not fully aware of the public nature of the forum.

“As a first meeting, the attendance was reasonable and allowed for good interaction and productive discussions. 

“I understand SVC are planning follow-up meetings to further progress their Climate Change strategy for the Shire and I look forward to being involved in the ongoing planning process.”

 Mr Dodds said we are fortunate in NSW that our two largest apple-producing districts of Batlow and Orange are considered high elevation/sub-alpine regions.

Most apple and cherry varieties require a good amount of winter chilling hours (below 7 degrees celcius) in order to break dormancy and flower uniformly in the Spring.

Winter chill modelling has shown that the major apple growing districts in NSW reliably accumulate more winter chilling than the minimum that is required for good production, providing a buffer against warming winter temperatures.

Some other regions around Australia are expected to become less suitable for apple production due to declining winter chill.

This is a “positive” for temperate fruit production in our region under a changed climate scenario and may actually attract new interest in the higher elevation parts of the Snowy Valleys Shire from growers in other parts of Australia, he said.

Mr Dodds said despite the good buffer for winter chill, there remain other climate variability and climate change challenges that local growers will face.

He said the local fruit industry was not immune to climate change, and fruit growers will need to continue to adapt to predicted challenges.

They include changes to seasonal rainfall and the impact on water availability for irrigation,  increasing severe weather events, extreme and prolonged heat events impacting fruit growth rates; warmer spring temperatures resulting in earlier flowering and increased frost risk; and warmer temperatures resulting in changes to pest behaviour and range.

Whilst other areas may suffer as a result of the effects of climate change, Mr Dodds said he was “optimistic” about the future of temperate fruit production in the Snowy Valleys region.

“Having worked alongside local apple growers here since 1990, I have observed their great ability to adapt to changes in growing conditions and nature’s challenges,” he said.

“There are some terrific examples that show our fruit producers are very skilled in this area. Following severe drought in the early 1980s, Batlow orchardists were among some of the first producers to fully adopt water efficient drip irrigation systems in their orchards.

“Drip irrigation is now standard practice. Increased incidence of hail storms from the early 90s onward and in more recent years, increasing incidence of Flying Fox and bird damage, has led Batlow growers to progressively adopt protective netting.

“The good news is that protective netting for hail and vertebrate pests is also helping growers to mitigate the risk of sunburn on fruit,” Mr Dodds concluded.      

Meanwhile, Batlow resident Kemble Walker attended the entirety of the forum.

He believed it was “worthwhile” and said it had provided a good platform to build on.

““The forum format was really good and allowed a great balance between listening and talking collaboratively. I thought it was a real success,” Mr Walker said.

Mr Walker, 28, competed a Bachelor of Arts (Anthropology) at Columbia University in New York before going on become a Master of Sustainability through the University of Sydney.

Despite being born in Sydney, Mr Walker opted to move to Batlow in July last year, with the region’s climate being the major drawcard.

“Climate change is a significant phenomenon for anyone who plans to live on earth this century,” Mr Walker said.

“This region’s main asset is the extensive land with above-average rainfall thanks to the Snowy Mountains (Kunama Namadji).

“In my view the main challenge will be to manage the influx of people interested to settle here more so than tackling current behaviour.

“Small gestures are still good to improve amenity and attractiveness of the region, but there’s nothing huge to tackle. Longer-cycle selective logging could improve the carbon balance of forestry.”

Suggestions aired at the forum included Council employing an environment and sustainability officer; rainwater tank subsidies; education about environmental issues and household solutions; and forward planning for increasing population.