Management opportunities for boosting productivity of cool-temperate grazed dairy farms under climate change
Phelan, DC and Harrison, MT and Kemmerer, EP and Parsons, D, Management opportunities for boosting productivity of cool-temperate grazed dairy farms under climate change, Agricultural Systems, 138 pp. 46-54. ISSN 0308-521X (2015) [Refereed Article]
Improved knowledge of the effects of climate change on farming systems can help increase long-term production, economic performance, and mitigate risk. Here we assessed the effects of stocking rate and seasonal calving times on pasture and milk production under short and long term climate changes on dairy farms in Tasmania, Australia. Annual and monthly perennial ryegrass pasture production was simulated from 1971 to 2065 to examine trends in pasture productivity, forage requirements, and impacts on milk production in 2015 and 2050. The projected future climate for the study region indicates a mean warming of up to 1.4 °C, with moderate declines in rainfall of up to 5%. Despite lower rainfall, climate change will likely have a positive impact on pasture yields, with annual production increasing by 13–16%, even though summer growth is reduced and inter-annual variability is increased. We found that greater pasture production is conducive to greater forage conservation, and together these factors allow intensification of stocking rates. These effects increase milk yields by 3–16% per annum and reduce reliance on purchased feeds, which together implies greater profitability of cool-temperate Australian dairy systems under future climates. We also found that total milk production in a spring calving system allows greater stocking rates and pasture utilisation compared with an autumn calving system, and whilst milk produced per animal declines under higher stocking rates, milk yield per hectare increases. Overall, our results suggest that global warming and climate change will positively affect pasture growth rates in Tasmania, and that greater production and conservation of home-grown feeds will be conducive to increased farm milk yields, provided that stocking rates are intensified sustainably.