Close-up image of wheat growing in a field.

Original climate benchmark makes a comeback

Reference: 07/198

An original climate benchmark first identified for South Australian farmers in the 1860’s –Goyder’s Line – is on the move, according to a review by scientists and primary producers.

  • 5 October 2007

The review, conducted this year by the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) and CSIRO, found that while technology improvements such as conservation farming and drought-resistant varieties may continue to offer advantages, there is general pessimism about the longer term impact of climate change.

Goyder’s Line originated in 1865 when the then Surveyor-General of South Australia, George Goyder, drew a line of reliable rainfall to delineate cropping country from extensive grazing land.

“SARDI’s Dr Peter Hayman and CSIRO’s Dr Mark Howden surveyed 270 primary producers, rural advisers, land valuers and agricultural students on three issues likely to affect a future delineation: technology improvement and no climate change; climate change and no technology improvement; and, climate change and technology improvement”

One hundred and forty years later this icon of resource-planning in drought-prone climates has been elevated into contemporary rural discussion around South Australia’s climate projections for 2030 and 2070.

SARDI’s Dr Peter Hayman and CSIRO’s Dr Mark Howden surveyed 270 primary producers, rural advisers, land valuers and agricultural students on three issues likely to affect a future delineation: technology improvement and no climate change; climate change and no technology improvement; and, climate change and technology improvement.

Armed with a graph of wheat yields and climate projections developed in 2006, participants were asked how vulnerable they thought they would be and how far they thought Goyders’ Line would shift with an intensification of climate change.

“The story of Goyders’ Line is a cautionary tale against over-confidence arising from a few years of above-average rainfall,” Dr Hayman says. “There has always been a wider fascination with the margin between arable land and the desert and it epitomises risk at a time when we are seeing continuing drought and worrying indicators of climate change.”

He says the majority of farmers surveyed accepted that climate change is real. They also tended to be optimistic about technology and pessimistic about the impact of climate change.

“The overall consensus was that by 2030 technological improvement and climate change stress would more or less cancel each other out but by 2070 climate change would override any technology improvement,” Dr Hayman says.

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