Climate change impacts on food supply

By Bec Hopkins.

Climate change is leading to a rise in food prices and availability, a recent report has found. ‘The Fork in the Road’ report written by Stephen Bartos and commissioned by Farmers for Climate Action, was released in early March and covered the risks that changing climate is having on the Australian food industry. Australia exports 70% of our food supply and generally has productive agriculture, however climate change and resultant extreme weather events are threatening supply chains and the industry. Australian food supply chains are robust and adaptable, but are at risk if affected by concurrent catastrophic events. Australian farmers have already felt the impacts of droughts, bushfires and flooding occurring within the last 5 years; as well as factors outside of climate change, like the COVID-19 pandemic and global political instability. These have all had effects on local and global food supply chains resulting in higher prices and less food on the shelves.

Disruptions can happen in all stages of the supply chain from production, processing, distribution, through to retail/services before it reaches consumers. Climate change adds a layer of unpredictability to the supply chain, making it harder to plan, and increasing risk. There are higher costs to producers dealing with the additional obstacles of getting food to plate, which in turn gets passed on to the consumer, resulting in higher food prices.

The Fork in the Road report suggests a multi-pronged approach to respond to these complex challenges – both through adaptation and mitigation – but ultimately calls for deeper cuts to emissions targets in order to mitigate the effects of climate change to the food industry.

CEAT are working in various ways to help address and find opportunities in these complex challenges. We are working with multidisciplinary academics to apply their research to develop solutions that address agricultural challenges, and that will have real-world impact in the industry. We are also working with different organisations like AusAgritech, ACIAR, and the different levels of government to ensure that structures are in place to grow a strong and vibrant agri-tech ecosystem.

Ag-innovation typically works in the adaptation space – providing food growers with the necessary technology to adapt to changing climates. We have had two recent examples of this type of research being done with wheat to aid resilience in drier climates: CSIRO scientists have identified genes for a more drought-resistant wheat that can tap into moisture deeper in the soil, and the research being done by our own Prof Atkin looking at leaf respiration and heat tolerance in wheat varieties.

Innnovation can also happen in mitigation, through the use of technologies that help drive down carbon emissions, whether through the use of renewable energy or using the waste by-product of agricultural processes. CEAT are also hosting a Canberra workshop at the ANU in late April in the lead-up to the 2035 Agri-Food-Tech Oceania Summit. The workshop will bring together different players in agri-tech, including researchers, industry and government, to share ways they can help reduce the carbon footprint of the agri-food production sector.

With the federal budget being announced at the end of the month, and federal election coming up by mid-year, discussion around climate and agricultural policies will once again be brought into focus. As players in the agri-sector, we all have a part in contributing to the conversation around what we can do to help build not just a resilient, but thriving industry in the face of intergenerational challenges such as climate change. The journey is a long one, and there are sure to be many more developments on the topic. Keep up to date with our monthly newsletter, or check out our socials.

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