Meet Victorian Agriculture and Climate Change Council Chair, Alexandra Gartmann

How do you help make farming profitable as climate change impacts? That’s the challenge being tackled by Victoria’s first Agriculture and Climate Change Council.

The impact of climate change on Victorian farmers is very real when you consider the following fact.

Climate variability reduced annual farm profitability in Victoria by 37.1 per cent in the 2000-2019 period, substantially worse than the national average of 22 per cent reduced farm profitability, according to modelling estimates by ABARES (Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences).

You don’t need to tell our farmers about this statistic, they live it every day.

To help the sector respond to the climate change challenge, in November last year the Victorian Government established an inaugural nine-member Victorian Agriculture and Climate Change Council with broad experience across farm types, agribusiness and climate policy expertise, to advise the Minister for Agriculture on how to support the Victorian agriculture sector to prepare for and respond to climate change.

Chair Alexandra Gartmann – who’s also CEO of Rural Bank, a division of the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank – discusses how the council can help the agricultural sector and the Victorian Government work together to tackle climate extremes and build sector resilience.

As a major industry in Victoria, Alexandra is well aware the agriculture sector needs to continue adapting to remain sustainable and profitable and has a role to contribute to Victoria achieving a net-zero emissions economy by 2050.

Q&A: Alexandra Gartmann

Why is this Council needed?

It’s an important mechanism for the Minister for Agriculture to access members’ knowledge on the impacts of climate change and develop relevant actions. Our members all have close ties and networks with Victorian agriculture.

What do you hope to achieve as Chair?

I hope to lead the Council to effectively fulfil its advisory role to the Minister and support relevant and action-orientated outcomes for the sector.

I’m excited by the Council’s unique opportunity to make a difference for Victorian agriculture by shaping and influencing climate policy and action.

I’ve had the chance to meet with Agriculture Minister Mary-Anne Thomas several times since December and hear about her vision for the Council to be trusted knowledge brokers, supporting the sector with a pathway to adopting practical climate change responses.

Photo of Alexandra with hay bales in the background Agriculture is already experiencing the impacts of an increasingly variable and extreme climate. Can you elaborate?

Victoria’s climate is projected to become warmer and drier with changing rainfall patterns and more extreme events such as drought, fires and floods predicted, and those in turn will influence the types and prevalence of pests, disease, influence animal husbandry practices and broader input availability and markets.

It has already impacted the productivity and yield of a range of agricultural commodities across the state and this is projected to continue although impacts will vary by region and sector.

Many farm businesses have applied new knowledge and adapted their operations to manage the impacts of climate variability and climate change on their production, however we must keep prioritising actions to adapt to climate change and reduce our emissions, so we can operate profitably into the future.

Reducing emissions, water management, financial strategies and building sector resilience is part of the climate change solution. Why?

Climate change poses complex challenges and opportunities for the agriculture sector, as it both generates greenhouse gases and is highly affected by climate change. This means the sector will need to reduce its emissions while adapting to changes.

Some changes are physical changes to the climate that need to be addressed on-farm or through the supply chain, while others are changes in relation to market access and trade, or access to finance and financial risk management.

What are the Council’s goals for this year?

We’re supporting Victorian Government to meet commitments under the Climate Change Act and deliver relevant climate change programs for the agriculture sector.  This includes shaping the design delivery of key components of the recently announced Agriculture Sector Pledge. Under the pledge $20 million will be invested over four years to support the agriculture sector respond to climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  A priority for the Council is informing the Victorian Agriculture and Climate Change Statement and design of programs in the pledge like the on-farm action plan pilot. We will also be part of the delivery of stakeholder engagement activities under the Pledge. We’re informing the development and implementation of the Primary Production Adaptation Action Plan, a critical planning tool that will assist our primary production system – which includes agriculture, plantation and productive forestry industries – to prepare for climate change.

Also, the Council will identify opportunities to strengthen the Victorian Government’s agriculture and climate change work program and support the Agriculture Minister’s ambition of delivering a coordinated national approach to agriculture and climate change.

Turning goals into actions: how the Victorian Government is fighting climate change

The strategy

The Victorian Government has committed to the long-term future of the Victorian agriculture sector through Strong, Innovative, Sustainable: A new strategy for agriculture in Victoria. This includes a commitment for our state to be a leader in low-emissions agriculture, and actions to support climate adaptation and financial risk management.

The Act

Victoria’s Climate Change Act 2017 maps out key government actions to manage climate risks, maximise opportunities, and drive the transition to a climate resilient, net-zero emissions community and economy. It sets the framework for emissions reduction and climate adaptation targets and tools. The Victorian Agriculture and Climate Change Council is working closely with Agriculture Victoria to shape the development and implementation of those tools.