Australia's agricultural sector could face a cascade of potentially catastrophic impacts from climate change without a significant new focus on the issue, a report out today warns.
The Australian Farm Institute report says Australia faces an urgent need to adopt a national strategy on climate change and the Australian agriculture sector.
"A successful strategy must be underpinned by research, development and extension to enable systemic adaption and identify the priority gaps where action and strategic policy are needed," the report says.
It calls on government to adopt a three-part strategy, based on a foundation of risk minimisation, that includes strong research and development, a transition to clean energy and capture and storage of carbon.
Among the risks identified are falling production, declining farm profits, food insecurity and a negative impact on the health of rural communities.
Cotton, a water-intensive crop, could be among the worst impacted by climate change, with yields down 17 per cent by 2050 under current modelling, meaning farmers would have to increase irrigation by 50 per cent to maintain adequate soil moisture.
Livestock is also predicted to be hit hard as pasture quality and quantity decreases, with heat stress reducing milk yield in dairy cows by up to 40 per cent in extreme heatwave conditions. Australia's red meat sector has already adopted a plan to become carbon neutral by 2030.
Wine regions with Mediterranean climates are also likely to be less suitable for grape production under modelling for higher temperatures.
Despite the gloom the report finds with the right strategies in place farmers could benefit financially from taking action to store carbon in their soils.
"Emission-minimising methods of production can enable Australian agriculture to diversify, garner efficiency gains and build social and financial value," the report says.
The federal government recently announced a $30 million fund to compensate farmers for improving the biodiversity of their land and for sequestering carbon. Increasing global demand would also presented opportunities for Australian producers.