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Improving the communication of climate information to dairy farmers

Hayes, G.B. Mr; Ph: (02) 6041 1150; Fax: (02) 6023 2768;;

Research Organisation: The Virtual Consulting Group, PO Box 321, Albury, NSW 2640

Collaborators: United Dairy Farmers of Victoria

Sponsors: DRDC, Dairy Research and Development Corporation; LWRRDC, Land and Water Resources Research and Development Corporation


The primary objectives are: (1) to investigate farmers' understanding of probability based climate forecasts and (2) to subsequently improve their ability to use this information in their decision making processes. The specific objectives are to:

  • Assess farmers' understanding of the information provided during the current El Niño event.
  • Assess farmers' understanding of the consequences of not acting on the available information.
  • Identify whether the information was used in farmers' decision making process, why it was used and how.
  • Identify the financial and business management constraints to the use of the information.
  • Test farmers' ability to use information presented in alternative forms.
  • Communicate the findings in relation to most effective forms of communication to information generators (e.g. BOM) and to re-sellers of information (e.g. Victorian Department of Natural Resources and Environment, agribusiness, consultants, water authorities etc.).


In the early stages of the 1997/98 El Niño event, a great deal of probability based climate information was made available to Australian dairy farmers, to help them with their farm management decisions. The forecasts predicted a dry spring and summer period, dramatic reductions in irrigation water allocations and potential feed shortages. Despite these forecasts many dairy farmers continued their normal management practices and consequently experienced water and feed shortfalls in late summer and early autumn.

This project will investigate farmers' ability to interpret and utilize different forms of presentation of probability based climate information in the management of their farm businesses. A selection of farmers who experienced difficulties during the 1997/98 El Niño event will be interviewed to test their ability to understand this information. The research team will then examine the decisions made by these farmers in an attempt to identify constraints to the use of probability based climate predictions. Such constraints may include understanding of probabilities, business management skills, financial position, timing of information, delivery methods, etc. A whole-farm model will be used to assess the financial impact of the decision making processes employed by each of the farmers. Farmer workshops and case studies will then be used to identify and test alternative methods of delivering climate information to farming communities. The findings from these consultations will be used to advise providers (such as the Bureau of Meteorology) and disseminators (such as State Departments, consultants, water authorities) of climate information on the most effective forms of communication.

This project has a short time frame and is aimed at generating information that will be used in the communication of future climate information and the results of other NCVP projects. To keep other groups informed we are proposing:

1. WWW Page - We will establish and maintain a project page on our World Wide Web site. This page will report progress and interim findings as the project progresses and readers will be able to e-mail comments. (See )

2. Farmer Workshops - Key extension agents from the dairy industry and climate forecasters will be invited to observe the farmer workshops and case study discussions. This will provide the opportunity to experience first hand the responses of farmers to different communication methods.

3. Industry Workshops - The team will provide industry with insights on the most effective means of communicating this sort of information and will participate in related workshops where appropriate e.g. in conjunction with the NCVP project from the Pastoral and Veterinary Institute, Hamilton.

Progress: interviewing of farmers has started.

Period: starting date 1998-10; completion date 1999-07

Status: project commenced

Keywords: climate variability; decision making; climate variability and impacts; drought; economics


VCG Australia Pty Ltd (1997). Dairy El Niño risk management study. Possible impacts and recommended strategies for dairy farmers. Final report to the Dairy Research and Development Corporation and the Land and Water Resources Research and Development Corporation from The Virtual Consulting Group, 104 pp.


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