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Agricultural land climate risk

Queensland's weather and climate variations are difficult risks for the agriculture sector to manage. The most effective way of managing this risk is to apply weather and climate information when making on-farm decisions and taking predicted climate changes into consideration.

High year to year variability in Queensland's rainfall is closely connected to El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a major climate feature affecting eastern Australia. During ENSO–El Niño periods, reduced rainfall throughout much of Queensland results in drought, land degradation, reduced profits, greater debt and human hardship. During ENSO–La Niña periods, higher rainfall has led to some major floods.

These ENSO periods can have a major impact on profitability and recovery from these events can be challenging. For this reason, it's important to understand and to keep yourself informed of regional climate changes and climate forecasting when planning or managing agricultural land.

Agricultural land use categories

Due to the variety of land use in Queensland, climate risks affect industries in many different ways. To mitigate for climate risk, an understanding of agricultural land uses and their associated risks is essential.

Broadacre cropping

Broadacre cropping refers to rain-fed or dryland cropping such as wheat or sorghum and irrigated broadacre cropping such as cotton.

Crop yields for wheat and sorghum are closely connected to ENSO conditions. In El Niño years, yield outcomes are generally lower than the long-term average, and are generally higher in La Niña years.

To research rainfall and frost trends, use the:

Rain-fed or dryland and irrigated crops of sugarcane are dependent on irrigation supply or rainfall to optimise crop yield and sugar content. Low minimum temperatures and how long low temperatures persist can have a significant impact on plant establishment and growth of sugarcane. Below 17oC, germination processes slow and infection of plant material by soil borne fungi and other pests are possible.

To research and monitor rainfall trends, use the:

Annual horticulture

Annual crops, such as carrots, tomatoes and other irrigated crops that live for less than 1 year, are sensitive to temperature. Many horticulture crops have specific temperature requirements which optimise yield and product quality. Identifying temperature thresholds for specific crops and understanding their impacts on yield and product quality is important for your crop growing decision-making.

Perennial horticulture

Perennial horticulture includes irrigated crops such as nuts and fruits from woody and semi-herbaceous plants (trees and vines) that are harvested over a period of more than 1 year. Coastal and near-coastal horticulture businesses, particularly banana plantations and other orchard crops in tropical and subtropical areas of Queensland are sensitive to the impacts of cyclones and storms.

Crops may be impacted by cyclones and storms due to their long life-cycle from establishment to harvest, and susceptibility to high winds and intense rainfall. Identifying the likelihood of exposure to high winds and the thresholds at which crops will be compromised can help to guide your investment decisions prior to establishment.


Both sown and native pasture are reliant on the timing of the break in the dry season during spring and early summer. An early season break supports new pasture growth as nutritional demands on cows with calves at foot increases. A late break in the dry season delays pasture growth and places more stress on cows and calves, resulting in lower animal and herd productivity.

The ideal calving period for breeding herds in Queensland extends from August to December, depending on location (earlier in the south, later in the north).

Understanding the risk of early or late season break using rainfall thresholds under different ENSO conditions allows herd and pasture management options to be explored earlier in the dry season. For example, reducing saleable stock numbers earlier if a late season break is expected may reduce grazing pressure to support remaining stock until useful rain is received.

Learn about FutureBeef's Grazing land management workshops.

Native and exotic plantation forestry

Both native and exotic plantation forestry are at risk of cyclones, intense storms, and wildfire events. The management of existing native forests or establishment of plantations for the commercial production of timber are particularly sensitive due to the long life-cycle to harvest time. Strong winds, especially those stronger than 150km/hr will inflict damage, and wildfire flames higher than 1m will effect commercial returns.

Although there is limited information on native forest climate variability adaptation and management options, the Plantation forestry adaptation handbook provides a guide for native forest managers.

Learn more about exotic plantations on Timber Queensland's Timber plantations in tropical cyclonic areas of Queensland.

Intensive livestock

Certain livestock, such as cattle in feedlots, piggeries, poultry, eggs and aquaculture are vulnerable to increased temperatures and humidity. Higher temperatures lead to excessive heat loads (EHL) which can result in production losses and animal welfare concerns. Prolonged rainfall and wet conditions should be considered when planning where to farm intensive livestock. A Heat Load Action Plan can be used to manage EHL.

To be effective, consider these 4 key plan components:

  1. pre-summer reviews and preparation
  2. managing and monitoring heat through the summer period
  3. responding to a specific EHL event(s)
  4. deactivation and review.

Check the following EHL resources for more information:

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