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Keywords:

  • Australia;
  • climate change;
  • grasslands;
  • GRAZPLAN;
  • livestock;
  • simulation

Abstract

Broadacre livestock production is a major but highly diverse component of agriculture in Australia that will be significantly exposed to predicted changes in climate over coming decades. We used the GRAZPLAN simulation models to assess the impacts of climate change under the SRES A2 scenario across southern Australia. Climate change impacts were examined across space (25 representative locations) and time (1970–99, 2030, 2050 and 2070 climate) for each of five livestock enterprises. Climate projection uncertainty was considered by analysing projections from four global circulation models (GCMs). Livestock production scenarios were compared at their profit-maximizing stocking rate, constrained to ensure that risks of soil erosion were acceptable. Impacts on net primary productivity (ANPP) varied widely between GCM projections; the average declines from historical climate were 9% in 2030, 7% in 2050 and 14% in 2070. Declines in ANPP were larger at lower-rainfall locations. Sensitivity of ANPP to changes in rainfall ranged from 0.4 to 1.7, to temperature increase from −0.15 to +0.07 °C−1 and to CO2 increase from 0.11 to 0.32. At most locations the dry summer period lengthened, exacerbating the greater erosion risk due to lower ANPP. Transpiration efficiency of pastures increased by 6–25%, but the proportion of ANPP that could safely be consumed by livestock fell sharply so that operating profit (at constant prices) fell by an average of 27% in 2030, 32% in 2050 and 48% in 2070. This amplification of ANPP reductions into larger profitability declines is likely to generalize to other extensive livestock systems. Profit declines were most marked at drier locations, with operating losses expected at 9 of the 25 locations by 2070. Differences between livestock enterprises were smaller than differences between locations and dates. Future research into climate change impacts on Australian livestock production needs to emphasise the dry margin of the cereal-livestock zone.