The Australian National Agricultural Monitoring System – a national climate risk management application
1 Bureau of Rural Sciences, GPO Box 858 Barton ACT 2601 Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Climate variability exposes agricultural producers to considerable risks because outcomes of decisions cannot be confidently predicted. Historically, agrometeorological information has been utilised by managers of production systems to make farming systems somewhat resilient to variable climates. However, this information is often not available to producers in forms that they can readily access and use in their production systems. This paper describes the National Agricultural Monitoring System (NAMS), a tool being developed to bring together: information and data on historical climate variability; contextual factors such as land use and soil type; the impact of climatic variation on a variety of agricultural production systems at the regional level; and economic information on farm performance. The impetus to develop this tool came from a need to provide support to the Australian Government’s drought programs. However, the potential of this tool to provide valuable real-time climatic and production information to producers was recognised early by a decision to make the information freely available via a website. It is envisioned that producers will be able to use the information provided by NAMS to assist in management decisions by being better able to judge and assess the risks to production systems posed by climate variability. The development of NAMS has involved extensive collaboration with major stakeholder groups including the Australian, State and Territory governments, which has helped ensure that the tool has strong support from its key users and that it is a valuable tool for individuals outside of its target audience.
Climate variability, NAMS
Historically, agrometeorological information has been utilised by managers of production systems to make farming systems somewhat resilient to variable climates (Meinke and Stone 2005). For example, fallows have been adopted for capture and storage of soil water for the following season’s crop to insure against the possibility of low, in-crop rainfall (Lyon et al. 2004). However, these systems are not necessarily optimally adapted for climate variability, for example farming systems developed during a run of wet seasons may not be as resilient during a run of dry seasons (Meinke and Hammer 1995).
Although it is well understood that a thorough knowledge of historical climate variability is an invaluable tool in helping producers manage associated production risks, this information is often not available to producers in a form that they can readily access and use in their production systems. This paper provides a brief description of the importance of climate variability and drought in shaping agricultural practice and policy in Australia. In particular, this paper will describe the National Agricultural Monitoring System (NAMS), a tool being developed by the Australian, State and Territory governments primarily to support the Australian Government’s drought programs, and to provide information on current climatic conditions and their impact on agricultural production.
Australia has recently experienced one of its most severe droughts on record. The most severe part of this drought, in terms of geographic extent and rainfall deficit, occurred between March 2002 and January 2003, and covered most of the agriculturally productive regions in the country (Figure 1). The drought led to over 90 applications for EC funding, and just under 50% of Australian agricultural land received some level of support. A national drought workshop was held to discuss the efficiency of the current measures in dealing with drought, and to map out new and improved ways to deliver drought assistance. One of the issues raised was that the current system of applying for support was complex and time consuming and often led to support being provided well after the worst impacts of the drought had been experienced. Partly as a result of this feedback, the Australian, State and Territory Agricultural Ministers, through the Primary Industries Ministerial Council (PIMC), gave consideration to the development of a national agricultural production monitoring system to assist in the development of EC applications and to facilitate decision-making for government intervention. It was envisaged that such a system would provide an agreed set of data for use by both the applicants and assessors, and for this data to be readily available via the World Wide Web.
The rationale behind developing the NAMS was to automate the creation of an EC report via the Internet. The automation was intended to streamline the application and assessment processes for EC, and reduce the time and cost associated with the process. The NAMS was also designed to produce state and national agricultural production and climatic reports, and analyses at the regional, state and national scale. These reports and analyse are intended to provide a snapshot of current conditions, primarily to highlight regions where conditions are deteriorating due to adverse climatic conditions. This early alert system could be used to target support to regions before the primary impact of the drought is experienced, thus reducing the social, environmental and economic impacts. Further details of the analyses and reports used in NAMS are available from the website at http://www.nams.gov.au/.
In the past many stakeholders viewed the analyses undertaken in the EC assessment process as something of a ‘black box’ and as a result did not always accept the rationale or methods used in the process. To circumvent this problem, NAMS, with the participation of State and Territory agencies, provides free access to data that are used in the EC application and assessment processes. Data and analyses included in the NAMS were chosen by a scientific advisory committee, established with members from major stakeholder groups, including State and Territory governments and key Australian research agencies. The intention of having such a comprehensive advisory group was to maintain transparency in the system and to ensure that trust was maintained between the stakeholders.
The NAMS evolved out of a need to streamline the Australian Governments’ drought assistance program but is developing into a broader tool. NAMS has been designed to deliver a number of set products, including EC reports, but also has the capacity to deliver a wide range of climatic- and production-based analyses for any selected region within Australia. The development of NAMS has involved extensive collaboration with major stakeholder groups, including representatives from the Australian and State and Territory Governments, producer groups and scientific research organisations. The extensive consultation process has helped ensure that the tool has strong support from its key users and that it is a valuable and relevant tool for individuals outside of its target audience. It is envisaged that producers will be able to use the information provided by NAMS to assist in management decisions by improving their ability to judge and assess the risks to production systems posed by climate variability.
Lyon D, Bruce S, Vyn T and Peterson G (2004). Achievements and future challenges in conservation tillage. New Directions for a Diverse Planet. Proceedings for the 4th International Crop Science Congress Brisbane. www.cropscience.org.au. Accessed 9 June 2006.
Meinke H and Hammer G (1995). Climatic risk to peanut production: A simulation study for northern Australia. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture 35, 777-780.
Meinke H and Stone RC (2005). Seasonal and inter-annual climate forecasting: the new tool for increasing preparedness to climate variability and change in agricultural planning and operations. Climatic Change 70, 221-253.