Everyone loves talking about the weather

It doesn’t seem to matter where you are in the world, a common thread of conversation seems to be discussions about the weather. From idle conversations in hostel common rooms about the rain, sun, temperature or forecast, to the distinct lack of winter clothes that I have brought on this trip (cos Australia’s hot right?), it is a theme that binds us all together.
When you include farmers in this conversation, weather forecasting and reporting usually takes on a new level of intensity, and its unsurprising, due to the vulnerability of these businesses to the weather and its impact. Australian farmers are used to dealing with extremes of climate, drought, fires, winter rains, but what I hadn’t realised was that there are a whole bunch of climate models and weather patterns that are different to what we have in the UK.
Graeme Anderson from the Department of Primary Industries for the State of Victoria is a climate extension specialist. His job is explaining the complexities of climate forecasting to farmers and helping them understand what impact these models will have on their management decisions. And unsurprisingly, he’s found that by starting conversations with farmers about what’s happening with the weather, they are interested in what he has to say. They can see the direct link with what they are doing on-farm.
Graeme has used video to try and explain these complex climate models to farmers. The process is to gather all the data from the climate modellers, write a script that makes it easy to understand, check that the facts are correct and the meaning is still there, pilot test it with farmers and then release it. The series of videos that he has made about the different weather events is called Climate Dogs. Each of the different weather patterns is characterised as a cartoon dog, usually a sheepdog or kelpie of some description, and the videos depict these dogs (all given names that correspond to the acronyms of the weather patterns) behaving in the way that the climate does when these conditions occur. It also explains the impact that these models bring, in terms of rainfall and temperature patterns.
Graeme also provides monthly climate forecast videos that are done in the style of a spoof sports programme with lots of humour. This means that they are shared more on social media and reach a wider audience.
There are also videos that explain the complexities of climate science, soil carbon and adaptation and mitigation options open to farmers, that he has produced that form part of an advisors CPD programme that it similar to what we have in the UK through FACTS. For advisors that want to give advice around fertiliser applications, agronomy and nutrient management planning, there is now a requirement to complete CPD, a part of which is a module around reducing emissions from agriculture, and the opportunities available to farmers to build resilience in their soils through organic matter and sequestering carbon.
Graeme has had much success in engaging farmers in the discussion about management practices to adapt to these changing weather patterns, by approaching it from the weather side, rather than the climate change debate. He regularly speaks at events about climate patterns and models and is popular with the farming community, his last event had 1,000 farmers at it.
Interestingly at the same time, the weather has been on the national news, as the south of Australia had been battered by a couple of storms, resulting in widespread flooding and power outages, and a blackout in Adelaide that went on for 24 hours. As I was driving from one farm to another, it was interesting to hear on the radio that this blackout became incredibly politicised and was used as an opportunity to blame renewable energy for the lack of power. There is an ambitious target in Australia for renewable energy generation but as you drive around wind turbines and ground mounted arrays are noticeable absent (the complete opposite of Cornwall) and in a land with so much sun, it seems a bit of a missed opportunity.
Thanks to Graeme Anderson for an extremely interesting visit, while I was in Melbourne. If you are interested in watching the climate dogs videos, click here.

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