Thursday, 16 June 2016

Abrupt climate change ruining Tasmanian farmers

Sadly they’ve left their run far too late. The horse has bolted. We’re living in the Age of Consequences

Tasmanian farmers demand climate change action after floods ruin farms
Some flood-affected Tasmanian farmers want to see more action on climate change, a topic which has received little debate during the election campaign.

14 June, 2016

Cropping, dairy, livestock and horticultural producers farming on waterways across north and west Tasmanian have watched their hard work wash away during floods, which have been described as the worst since 1929.

Damian Atkins from Caveside, has a property at Mole Creek on the Mersey River. He has been hit by four extraordinary events in the last nine months.

"In the winter time we had nearly a foot of snow on these flats, which is not in anyone's living history. We had the driest summer on record, we had bushfires, there were ember attacks here in the summertime and now we've had this.
"People talk about these [events being] one in 50 [or] one in 60 year occurrences, but in the last nine months we've had four.

"You can't really sit back and believe that there's been four one in 50, one in 60 year events and it's a coincidence. That's the frustration, even in an election cycle now, there's really nothing to do with climate change that gets talked about."

George Mills, at Panshanger near Longford, with 400 hectares underwater.PHOTO: George Mills, at Panshanger near Longford, with 400 hectares underwater. (Rosemary Grant)

While climate change has been linked to more natural disasters, there is less understanding about the affect climate change can have on the size and frequency of east coast low events, which brought torrential rainfall to Tasmania.

But to George Mills, at Panshanger near Longford, who had 400 hectares underwater during the floods, the link is obvious.
Produce will be penalised in the world market and we will be penalised by the fact we continue to have these greater weather events.
George Mills

"We can't stop the foods but what we do need to do is understand the weather systems," he said.

"The weather systems are changing, we have been told this by the scientists. We have to understand that the changes are happening but we as a nation we can alter those changes by doing the things we have been asked to do, and should be prepared to do, which is to reduce carbon emissions.

"We are a wealthy nation and we should be making the biggest effort towards those changes and not making excuses that our population is increasing and so on.

"If we don't farmers will always continue to suffer."

Reconciling good times by the river, and then floods

Mr Atkins has spent thousands of hours converting a former timber plantation back to grazing country he can run cattle on.

This has involved kilometres of new fences, and time spent painstakingly mulching back stumps left in the ground after the timber was removed.

He bought the property because it was on the Mersey River; owning river front land, where his family could relax in summer months, appealed.

The farm had not been under water in 60 years, but that changed last week.

Damian Atkins and son Harvey find their deck in amongst the flood debris.PHOTO: Damian Atkins and son Harvey find their deck in amongst the flood debris. (Supplied: Damian Atkins)

"We couldn't get down the first couple of days, the water was right back [from the river's banks], 500 to 600 metres from the edge," he said.

"Then we weren't able to get around another three days after that with bridges [washed away]. I went and saw most of the neighbours first, I wasn't game to come down here.

"It was pretty horrific to see, and the other people's places as well. It was something you'd expect to see in a movie, not on a river."

Ten days before many parts of Tasmania received torrential rainfall, causing the floods, the Atkins family held a barbecue. It was a celebration of finishing their last stretch of fencing, and being able to sit back and watch young cattle get fat grazing in their now defined paddocks.

"It's the hours people have put in, and the work, and it's just gone in an instant from something that was totally out of our control," Mr Atkins said.

Rachael and Damian Atkins during their wedding reception, on the banks of the Mersey River.PHOTO: Rachael and Damian Atkins during their wedding reception, on the banks of the Mersey River. (Supplied: Damian Atkins)

The Mole Creek property had 370 millimetres of rain. Upstream the catchment had totals of about 500 millimetres.

"That's the hard part, reconciling the good times you have in the summertime; it's such a placid, nice place to be. And then you come down and see the other side and how angry it actually was. And you try and put those two things together, emotionally that's probably the hardest part. What's your friend and your place of work and it's such a mess."

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