The value of adapting to climate change in Australian wheat farm systems: farm to cross-regional scale


Wheat is one of the main grains produced across the globe and wheat yields are sensitive to changes in climate. Australia is a major exporter of wheat, and variations in its national production influence trade supplies and global markets. We evaluated the effect of climate change in 2030 compared to a baseline period (1980–1999) by upscaling from farm to the national level. Wheat yields and gross margins under current and projected climates were assessed using current technology and management practices and then compared with ‘best adapted’ yield achieved by adjustments to planting date, nitrogen fertilizer, and available cultivars for each region. For the baseline climate (1980–1999), there was a potential yield gap modelled as optimized adaptation gave potential up scaled yields (tonne/ha) and gross margins (AUD$/ha) of 17% and 33% above the baseline, respectively. In 2030 and at Australian wheatbelt level, climate change impact projected to decline wheat yield by 1%. For 2030, national wheat yields were simulated to decrease yields by 1% when using existing technology and practices but increase them by 18% assuming optimal adaptation. Hence, nationally at 2030 for a fully-adapted wheat system, yield increased by 1% and gross margin by 0.3% compared to the fully adapted current climate baseline. However, there was substantial regional variation with median yields and gross margins decreasing in 55% of sites. Full adaptation of farm systems under current climate is not expected, and so this will remain an on-going challenge. However, by 2030 there will be a greater opportunity to increase the overall water use and nitrogen efficiencies of the Australian wheat belt, mostly resulting from elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment
Bangyou Zheng
Bangyou Zheng
Data Scientist / Digital Agronomist

a research scientist of digital agriculture at the CSIRO.