Future research priorities for climate change

Key research priorities for NSW Department of Primary Industries have been identified in each of the primary industry sectors. These priorities have been determined through interaction between the DPI, industry and other agencies.

Broadly, the response to climate change can be separated into three key areas; climate change modelling, mitigation and adaptation. It is recommended that DPI consider expanding research activity in these priority areas:

Climate Change Modelling

  • Development of regional climate change models by downscaling global climate projections: Enhanced capacity to translate probability-based global climate projections at the regional scale, to develop regional climate change models/projections. Regional- and industry-scale models will inform adaptation and mitigation responses.  This will require the development of input response curves for the current climate and the projected climate change scenarios for a range of sectors;
  • Development of a Geographical Information System (GIS) -based framework for assessing the risk of climate change for primary production systems;   
  • Development of vulnerability based models for key primary industry systems. This will facilitate vulnerability assessment of key systems to test the capacity for the coping range to be extended by proposed adaptation strategies; 
  • Research into socio-economic impacts of climate change and proposed adaptation strategies, as decision support for landholders and to inform policies for structural adjustment;
  • Development of decision support systems to assist primary industries to cope with enhanced climate variability.

Climate Change Mitigation

Research into clean coal technologies:

  • Full lifecycle analysis of current and alternative coal-fired power generation systems;
  • Identification of sites suitable for Geo-sequestration, and, subsequently, pilot injection projects;
  • Trial of capture of CO2 from power generation plants, gasification, and chemical looping technologies;
  • Research into co-firing a range of biomass materials in coal-fired power plants;
  • Investigation of the potential of photobioreactor systems, growing algae to produce  biodiesel, using CO2 captured from power stations.

Research into mitigation options in agriculture and forestry:

  • Full lifecycle analysis of current and alternative farming, livestock and forest systems, including direct and indirect emissions and removals, life cycle fossil fuel use; 
  • Development of production systems with lower life cycle emissions, that are sustainable, including with respect to impacts on other environmental attributes, and capacity to adapt to climate change;
  • Investigation of the potential for low-rainfall tree species to be integrated into farming systems, to provide environmental benefits in addition to carbon sequestration (salinity mitigation, biodiversity enhancement), and for products such as biomass for bioenergy production (for liquid fuels and stationary energy) and composite wood products; 
  • Research into methods to reduce methane emissions from ruminant livestock;
  • Research into methods to reduce nitrous oxide emissions from applied fertiliser;
  • Research into methods to manage emissions from manure in intensive livestock industries;
  • Research into use of char and recycled organics as a soil amendment to sequester carbon, improve soil organic carbon, improve water holding capacity and nutrient cycling.

Development of technologies for production of bioenergy and other products from agricultural and forest biomass:

  • Examination of a range of feedstocks for suitability for bioenergy production, including novel sources such as mallee eucalypts, woody weeds, arundo donax, jatropha, pongamia, algae;
  • Breeding for bioenergy traits: eg high starch wheats, high biomass grasses;
  • Socio-economic assessment of the impacts of a bioenergy industry on other NSW primary industries and the macro-economic implications for the national economy (ie. What is the net benefit of using land to produce internally consumed bioenergy that would otherwise produce crops for export?);
  • Assessment of biochemical options, including concept of biorefinery, whereby high value chemicals are produced from biomass in addition to energy products.

Development of the underpinning science to facilitate mitigation through emissions trading:

  • Quantification of the impacts of management practices on soil carbon and parameterisation of models of soil carbon dynamics for NSW agricultural and forest systems.  
  • Soil C parameterisation needs to consider coastal systems using C4 perennial grasses and the associated impact of farm practices.
  • The potential of rangelands to sequester C has already been modelled to a first approximation. (Hill, M., Braaten, R., McKeon, G., Barrett, D., Dyer, R., Friedel, M., Van Vreeswyk, S., Hacker, R., Henry, B., Carter, J., Haberkorn, G., McGregor, C., and Marlow, N. (2002). Range-ASSESS: A spatial framework for analysis of potential for carbon sequestration in rangelands. CRC Technical Publication No. 1. Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Accounting. ISSN 1446-442X)
    Examination of the soil carbon dynamics in NSW pine forests could have a major impact on DPI’s returns from carbon trading under the NSW Greenhouse Gas Abatement Scheme. 
  • Development of  improved models of sequestration for dryland forest species and mixed-species revegetation; 
  • Research into the role of forest products in climate change mitigation, including the effect of landfill type, management and environment on the rate and extent of decomposition of wood and paper products;
  • Development of acceptable methods for inclusion of wood products in carbon trading schemes, acknowledging their important role in continuing carbon sequestration in trees. This could result in increased revenues from carbon trading for forest growers, including NSW DPI, and further incentives to establish forests in NSW.

Climate Change Adaptation

Development of resilient farming systems enhanced strategies developed to cope with climate variability, to increase capacity to cope with greater variability, trends in climate variables, and indirect impacts (fire, pests) anticipated under climate change:

New plant varieties

Breeding and testing new plant varieties, for agriculture and forestry, with wider tolerance of climate variability, including ability to tolerate warmer and drier conditions, shorter seasons, increased rainfall intensity, reduced frosts.

Objectives for different species include:

  • Breeding for increased tolerance of water stress and improved nutrient use efficiency; tolerance of high temperatures during grain fill; quicker maturity; and lack of requirement for winter chill for bud burst. 
  • Extending introduced species into medium-low rainfall ‘dry margins’ environments 
  • Developing perennial legumes for hot/dry conditions (where lucerne is not persistent) 
  • Developing perennial grasses for low rainfall areas that are especially sensitive to changes in climate, drought tolerance and climate variability 
  • Developing species with greater tolerance of overgrazing and uncontrolled grazing. 
  • Lucerne evaluation trials conducted on NSW DPI breeding material at field sites in western NSW and at Roma, Queensland have shown potential for selecting heat tolerant, drought resistant material. Expansion of this work would enable selection of elite heat/dry tolerant plants for incorporation into a breeding program with potential to produce varieties better adapted to the hotter and drier conditions predicted to occur. Pest and disease screening expertise already developed within the lucerne breeding program would ensure that the germplasm developed would continue to have pest/disease resistance.
  • NSW DPI has a working collection of  Lotus species, including a small collection of greater lotus (Lotus uliginosus) breeding lines adapted to low latitudes (and possibly greater heat tolerance) that could push greater lotus (with its tolerance of waterlogging/acidity) further north and out of its current niche role. NSW DPI has an extensive collection of birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) and is currently developing experimental varieties to provide a new perennial legume adapted to low fertility acidic conditions and recharge landscapes in northern NSW. There is known genotypic diversity in birdsfoot trefoil to extend its usage through breeding into higher latitude x low rainfall dryland grazing and cropping environments.
  • The breeding of wild medicago species is also a high priority. Wild medicago are related species to Medicago sativa (lucerne) but have significantly greater tolerance of grazing, the ability to spread by rhizomes and in some cases greater salt and waterlogging tolerance. These plants will potentially provide a perennial legume for areas where lucerne will not persist due to over or uncontrolled grazing, salinity or drought. Australia has a large collection of germplasm collected from Eurasia that is waiting in the Genetic Resource Centre for seed increase and evaluation.
  • Other species of perennial legumes that have very early maturity that would be very good at adapting to hotter drier conditions are Yelbini, yellow serradella, Toreador hybrid medic which is a hybrid between strand and disc medic, and Trigonella balansae which is about to be released. All of these species flower from 70 to 85 days. Also Burgundy Bean a summer perennial legume can flower and set seed in as little as 60 daysunder moisture stress, but under better conditions will not flower till 90 days.
  • Research into the interactive effects of increased atmospheric carbon dioxide in a water and nutrient limited environment on growth of major crop, pasture and forest species. Good understanding of the impacts of climate change will inform adaptation strategies.
  • Research into the impacts of climate change on product quality, in all agricultural and forest systems, to inform breeding programs and development of adaptation strategies.
  • Research into the impacts of climate change on pests and diseases and resulting impacts on plants and animals.
  • Development of strategies for minimising water losses, both on-farm and at  regional scale.
  • Improved water use efficiency for irrigated agriculture.
  • Development of systems to minimise heat stress in the intensive livestock industries.
  • Interaction of grazing and climate change on resilience of ecosystems; are systems under greater climatic stress more susceptible to grazing (affecting carrying capacity and degradation risk)
  • Impact on weeds and management, particularly herbicide efficacy.
  • Landscape management- benefits of categorising to land capability for productivity, more targeted fertiliser management, revegetation etc.
  • Do plants acclimatise to changing temperatures? What plants are most vulnerable and where?

Quantifying environmental footprints

Quantify the environmental footprint of major NSW crop and livestock production systems on the soil, water and atmospheric environment.

Sustainable marine and freshwater ecosystems

Research into sustainable development of marine and freshwater ecosystems, to ensure that they are ecologically healthy as well as economically productive under the predicted impacts of climate change;

  • Evaluation of impacts of alternative management and harvest strategies using large scale biogeochemical ecological models;
  • Robust monitoring systems to understand impacts of climate change especially on recreationally and commercially harvested fish and invertebrates;
  • Research into impact of climate change on ecological health;
  • Evaluation of proposed adaptation strategies for marine and freshwater fisheries;
  • Research into impacts of increasing acidity of the oceans;
  • Research into impacts of sea level rise on estuarine salt marsh communities.