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More frosts to hit WA crops

shutterstock_229446448_frostylettuce

South west Western Australia is set to see more intense and frequent frosts.

This article originally appeared in the 2014/15 NCI Annual Report

New research suggests south western Australia will become even drier, with severe implications for the region’s $4.5 billion agricultural industry.

Professor Tom Lyons and his team at Murdoch University are using the high performance computing facilities at NCI to predict the future climate in the region – information that is critical for informing crop management strategies.

“Current global climate models give estimates of changes in rainfall at about 250 square kilometres, which isn’t that much use for farmers,” explains Professor Lyons.

“What we have been attempting to do is to take global climate models and downscale them to a farm-relevant scale of fewer than five square kilometres.”

After several rounds of model validation, the team is starting to predict the climate over the years 2029 to 2060.

This mammoth task requires a lot of computing power, says Professor Lyons, who is supported by funding from the Grains Research and Development Council.

“To give you an example, it takes us about eight hours real time to model a single month. We run these studies over 30 years, so you can imagine it tends to tie up a lot of resources, and produce large amounts of data.”

One of the most striking findings of the future climate modelling so far is that south west Western Australia is set to see more intense and frequent frosts.

“Frost is a particular problem for broadacre agriculture, where you’re looking at thousands of acres,” says Professor Lyons. “You can’t take action against that.”

The only way for broadacre farmers to avoid frost damage is to know the timing of frosts so they can adjust their planting decisions, says Professor Lyons.

“The problem is if you plant too early or late you’ve also got to worry about whether there is going to be enough soil moisture around when you need it,” he says.

“So it’s quite a nifty balance. We are basically trying to solve that problem with farm-scale meteorology.”

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