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Australian Farming Experts recomend South America

FARMERS may turn to buying property across the globe should climate change effects bite hard, a Geelong agriculture forum heard yesterday.

The agricultural college’s carbon discussion heard the views of some of the country’s peak climate change and agriculture experts.

The forum heard dire outlooks for Australia’s pastoral land, described as “the worst paddock” on the global farm. Modest estimations suggested sea levels rising to almost a metre by century’s end. Worst case scenarios expected oceans to rise 1.4m above current levels. In another scenario Geelong’s weather could resemble that of southern New South Wales.

But the researchers also had answers.

CSIRO climate change expert Mark Howden suggested larger landowners could hedge farming risks by buying agricultural land overseas, for example in South America’s Chile, Brazil and Argentina.

Agricultural research consultant Prof Timothy Reeves agreed, confirming large agribusinesses had already diversified their investments against drought.

“Already we’re seeing farmers in Australia not buying their neighbouring farms but buying in Tasmania to manage the risk,” he said.

“There are parts of South America that will not suffer as bad under climate change but might actually gain with rainfall.”

Prof Reeves said Australian landowners had already bought land in New Zealand and South America. Others were investigating Canada and Russia.

“Initially it’s going to be larger operators looking to expand or in joint ventures with South American operators but there’s plenty of pitfalls too.”

Several large landholders in the region warmed to the idea. One farmer who wished to remain anonymous said his business had already investigated offshore land but through a managed fund, not buying land directly. Another suggested diversifying investments outside farming, in property or shares for example.

Also at the forum, Canberra consultant Andrew Campbell discussed combining agriculture with the Government’s health portfolio. Mr Campbell said given future pressures of food security, combining budgets would connect healthy living to viable farming. Promoting the growth of healthy produce would also tackle obesity, Mr Campbell said.

“Because the economic impact of having so many morbidly obese people, with cardiovascular disease and diabetes they’re really big numbers,” he said.

“The budget for agriculture is a pittance in comparison.”

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