Gippsland farmer moves milking due to climate change

It’s such a dramatic change that the circle of life has actually shifted.  Mrs Macdonald [and her dairy farm are] on the frontline of climate change adaption. And she’s proud of what she’s done so far – but she knows she can adapt only so much.For nearly 100 years, the farm’s milkers would calve in June and July, in the depths of winter. But the South Gippsland winters are no longer the drenched months that Mrs Macdonald remembers from her childhood. Now, she says, they are warmer and drier. Now Mrs Macdonald encourages her girls to calve in April and May, both to take advantage of the better early-season growing conditions and to mitigate against a summer that seems much earlier and much longer, and no good for growing grass. “It’s had a massive impact on our farm,” she says.  “With what we’re calling the new climate about here, we have much warmer winters and much shorter springs, and generally much more savage summers. And it’s all more volatile.”  Mrs Macdonald is working hard to get the cows’ “lactation curve” – their milk production levels after they calve – to meet the “grass-growing curve”, so that the cows have plenty to eat during peak milk production. … But there is only so much one can do when a warming climate and declining rainfall have stripped the farm of 200 tonnes of grass a year – a tonne worth something like $300 on the open market.

“The dairy industry is very innovative,” Mrs Macdonald says.  “We’re not debating climate change any more; we’re just getting on with what we can do to adapt to it.”

The Age: Liam Mannix: 15 March 2015

Key Words: Farming

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