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Climate change adaption - DEEDI. Developing improved grazing management practices to assist beef production enterprises across northern Australia adapt to a changing and more variable climate

Project start date: 30 October 2009
Project end date: 30 September 2012
Publication date: 01 February 2014
Project status: Completed
Livestock species: Grassfed cattle, Grainfed cattle
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Climate change has the potential to cause substantial changes to the operating conditions in the grazing industry of northern Australia. Increasing CO2 levels will improve pasture growth but increased temperature will lead to higher evaporation. It is predicted that by about the year 2070 it is likely that pasture growth gains from increased CO2 will be cancelled out by higher evaporation and increased soil moisture loss. There is great uncertainty over the likely changes to rainfall, which is the main driver of pasture growth and hence of cattle numbers, productivity and beef business profitability. 
This project sought to provide greater clarity of the potential risks from climate change, and the best-bet management strategies to adapt to variable and changing climate. A key assumption was that maintaining land in good condition would provide the resilience need to buffer against a changing climate. This assumption was tested through industry engagement and computer simulation to compare how current best management strategies will perform under best, median and worse-case future rainfall scenarios. 
Through this project, more than 60,000 beef producers, advisors and stakeholders were exposed to management strategies to build resource and business resilience, and the message that resilience helps buffer against the effects of variable and changing climatic conditions. Over 780 producers stated that they now have the confidence through improved skills and knowledge to try new practices to build resilience. More than 170 have already implemented changes which will build resilience. 
Six key regions across northern-Australia were chosen for analyses based on industry interest, existing knowledge and geographic spread: the Kimberley of Western Australia; the Victoria River District and Alice Springs region of the Northern Territory; and the Gulf Savanna, Fitzroy catchment and Maranoa-Balonne of Queensland. Of these, the Alice Springs region, the Maranoa-Balonne and Fitzroy are at the greatest risk of reduced rainfall, reduced pasture growth and hence reduced carrying capacity. 
There is greater potential for land degradation and declining incomes in these regions if on-property practices fail to adapt. In regions where rainfall could stay at similar to current averages, such as the Gulf country of Queensland and the Kimberley region of Western Australia, carrying capacity may increase slightly. Slight increases in carrying capacity may be possible through improved pasture growing conditions with increased CO2. These regions could benefit from improved whole property income.

More information

Project manager: Mick Quirk
Primary researcher: Department of Agriculture and Fisheries