Drought hub to help reduce risk of future events

Drought hub to help farmers reduce risk

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FUTURE PROOFING: University of Adelaide deputy vice chancellor Anton Middelberg, SA Drought Hub application leader Rhiannon Schilling, and Grey MP Rowan Ramsey, at the launch of the drought hub, say they are excited about the opportunities.

FUTURE PROOFING: University of Adelaide deputy vice chancellor Anton Middelberg, SA Drought Hub application leader Rhiannon Schilling, and Grey MP Rowan Ramsey, at the launch of the drought hub, say they are excited about the opportunities.

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FARMERS will be given opportunities and information to better prepare for the "next drought"

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FARMERS will be given opportunities and information to better prepare for the "next drought", with about $20 million in government and other funding allocated to fostering ideas and techniques to build resilience.

The federal government is rolling out $64m nationally, across the next four years, towards the development of eight drought hubs, including one in SA based at the University of Adelaide's Roseworthy campus.

The new SA Drought Hub, launched on Friday, will be supported by five "nodes" in regional SA, based in pastoral, low, medium and high rainfall zones.

Along with $8m in federal government funding - as part of the $5-billion Future Drought Fund - the hub will have $4.4m in cash and in-kind support from the SA government, and $7m from other partners.

Rhiannon Schilling, an agricultural scientist with SARDI and a lecturer at the University of Adelaide, led the bid for the SA hub.

She says there are opportunities for farmers to work with researchers and other experts to build resilience in preparation for future droughts.

"We aim to increase the adoption of tools and technologies as we transition farms in SA towards a future with less rainfall," she said.

While the University of Adelaide is leading the project, it will have extensive partnerships, including 59 grower groups, major agribusiness companies and all SA universities.

Dr Schilling said the bulk of the activity would be driven by the grower partners at the five nodes, located in Minnipa, Loxton, Struan, Orroroo and Port Augusta, with the latter focusing on the state's pastoral zone.

"These locations were strategically selected based on extensive consultation with partners and provide the best regional coverage and use of existing resources, including AgTech farms and centres," she said.

While three of the sites will be able to make use of existing research centres, new sites at Port Augusta and Orroroo will be established.

A director will be appointed to head the project from Roseworthy and each site will have locally-based coordinators.

But Dr Schilling said they aimed to capitalise on farmer knowledge.

"There are innovative farmers out there, and one of our aims is to enable innovation from the previous droughts to be validated and scaled out," she said.

"We will have stakeholder advisory groups at each node, made up of local people.

"We want them to describe what they need on-ground, to demonstrate what is needed, but we will also identify gaps in knowledge and work out where innovation is needed in the future."

Dr Schilling said it was also great to have all three universities on-board, with each bringing in different skill sets, such as the University of SA's focus on social sciences and ways of thinking.

She said mental health and well being would be a core focus of the hub.

While adoption has sometimes been the bottleneck for research, Dr Schilling said the goal was for farmers to be invested in the projects.

"In most situations, research is completed, then shared out," she said.

"We want people involved from the start and feeling ownership of the outcomes."

Member for Grey Rowan Ramsey said the launch was an exciting event, with a lot of potential.

"This is where the rubber hits the ground," he said.

He said droughts were a constant in Australia, but throughout the years farming had changed, so the expenses and inputs required were increasingly higher, creating more risk.

Just last year, an estimated 70 per cent of the state was in drought, impacting more than 5400 farms.

(Farmers) have got a history of being resilient and innovative, we have to fast-track that. - ANDREW CURTIS

Mr Ramsey said the drought hub would work best as a "two-way exercise", with information and ideas flowing from farmers and researchers.

He said some projects he was excited to see more about was the practice of capturing water run-off on-farm with plastic sheets, which he had seen on some Eyre Peninsula operations.

"There are opportunities out there," he said.

Livestock SA executive chair Andrew Curtis said there was plenty of knowledge that needed to be collected and made mainstream.

"We've got a history of being resilient and innovative, we have to fast-track that," he said.

Included among the 59 grower groups is Air EP, with executive officer Naomi Scholz saying members were excited about the aim of the drought hub.

"It allows us - instead of waiting for drought - to start building resilience before it happens," she said.

"We can start gathering up past activity, what has been effective, what hasn't and what we don't know."

Ms Scholz said it was also a great way to build networks across regions, with the resources available to continue these long-term, beyond a single project.

She said Air EP had been consulting with growers and advisers and would be developing a plan of action.

"We've got lots of ideas of things we'd like to see, including diversification, different aspects of livestock management, water security and soil amelioration to have a bigger bucket - just to start with," she said.

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She said it was also great to see mental health and wellbeing a focus of the hub.

"It's so hard to make a good decision when you're stressed out," she said.

"That's why it's good to have strategies in place when you're not stressed out, so you know what you're going to do ahead of time."

Upper North Farming Systems chair Matt Nottle, Booleroo Centre, was also pleased with the hub, particularly with the decision to base a node at Orroroo.

He said the location included a good range of farming systems.

"I certainly believe the best way to utilise and spend money, is all leveraging off each other," he said.

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