THE livelihood and way of life of our farmers depends entirely on sun and wind and rain.
Farmers understand weather in a much deeper way than the average person. While most of us get in our air-conditioned car in the morning to go to an air-conditioned office and after work drive back to an air-conditioned home, farmers start their day looking up into the sky and checking the rain gauge.
When the subject of climate change crops up, most local farmers we talked to sigh or gave a resigned chuckle and patiently explained how in their experience, and the experience of their forebears, the climate was always changing but not necessarily in the way scientists said.
Kangaroo Valley farmer Robert Cochrane says he has always experienced extremes in weather, and considers himself a climate change sceptic.
“I remember October 24, 1999, when the Kangaroo River flooded at 8am, and by 8.25am my property was under a metre of water.”
He said the flood was so quick and so bad he watched helplessly when one of his cattle was washed downstream.
“I also remember a bushfire in 1987 that started in Bundanoon early in the morning and by the arvo had reached Cambewarra.”
Mr Cochrane said last year brought record-breaking rains where he lived, but now it’s the opposite.
“For example, today the rains came from the sea, drifted west and reached Cambewarra and then stopped.”
He said while scientists were claiming last year was the hottest on record, he remembered last September was the coldest in 20 years.
Bruce Coulthart from Numbaa agreed the Shoalhaven, like all of Australia, has always suffered extremes, so he did not see the recent shifts in weather as significant.
“I’ve been farming here for 50 years. Extremes happen all the time. Over the years I just don’t see anything the kind of climate change scientists are warning us about,” Mr Coulthart said.
Paul Anderson from Hillview on Jindy Andy Lane said farmers knew their land better than anyone.
“No computer model or academic or bureaucrat can tell a farmer what they can grow,” he said.
“We know what to grow and when to grow it.”
John Henry from Pyree said he viewed weather extremes as part of a natural cycle that had always existed.
“I remember floods and droughts and bushfires from when I was young, and we get them now.”
The only change he has noticed is that both droughts and floods seem to be more intense than before.
“Last winter, the floods covered two-thirds of my property. That leaks out nutrients and they have to be replaced with fertiliser,” Mr Henry said.
He said it was important to remember farmers were also asking more from their soil now, growing more per hectare than ever before.
“We’ve also improved our knowledge and management of things like feed and animal genetics. When I was a kid the average farm might have 200 cows; these days they have 250 and we get twice as much milk from each cow.”
Mr Henry said extreme weather happened in the past and will happen in the future.
“It’s a part of being on the land,” he said.