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Climate information needs of Gascoyne-Murchison pastoralists: a representative study of the Western Australian grazing industry

Keogh, D.U. and Watson, I.W. and Bell, K.L. and Cobon, D.H. and Dutta, S.C. (2005) Climate information needs of Gascoyne-Murchison pastoralists: a representative study of the Western Australian grazing industry. Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture, 45 (12). pp. 1613-1625.

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Article Link(s): http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/EA04275

Publisher URL: http://www.publish.csiro.au

Abstract

The Gascoyne-Murchison region of Western Australia experiences an arid to semi-arid climate with a highly variable temporal and spatial rainfall distribution. The region has around 39.2 million hectares available for pastoral lease and supports predominantly catle and sheep grazing leases. In recent years a number of climate forecasting systems have been available offering rainfall probabilities with different lead times and a forecast period; however, the extent to which these systems are capable of fulfilling the requirements of the local pastoralists is still ambiguous. Issues can range from ensuring forecasts are issued with sufficient lead time to enable key planning or decisions to be revoked or altered, to ensuring forecast language is simple and clear, to negate possible misunderstandings in interpretation. A climate research project sought to provide an objective method to determine which available forecasting systems had the greatest forecasting skill at times of the year relevant to local property management. To aid this climate research project, the study reported here was undertaken with an overall objective of exploring local pastoralists' climate information needs. We also explored how well they understand common climate forecast terms such as 'mean', median' and 'probability', and how they interpret and apply forecast information to decisions. A stratified, proportional random sampling was used for the purpose of deriving the representative sample based on rainfall-enterprise combinations.

In order to provide more time for decision-making than existing operational forecasts that are issued with zero lead time, pastoralists requested that forecasts be issued for May-July and January-March with lead times counting down from 4 to 0 months. We found forecasts of between 20 and 50 mm break-of-season or follow-up rainfall were likely to influence decisions. Eighty percent of pastoralists demonstrated in a test question that they had a poor technical understanding of how to interpret the standard wording of a probabilistic median rainfall forecast. this is worthy of further research to investigate whether inappropriate management decisions are being made because the forecasts are being misunderstood.

We found more than half the respondents regularly access and use weather and climate forecasts or outlook information from a range of sources and almost three-quarters considered climate information or tools useful, with preferred methods for accessing this information by email, faxback service, internet and the Department of Agriculture Western Australia's Pastoral Memo. Despite differences in enterprise types and rainfall seasonality across the region we found seasonal climate forecasting needs were relatively consistent. It became clear that providing basic training and working with pastoralists to help them understand regional climatic drivers, climate terminology and jargon, and the best ways to apply the forecasts to enhance decision-making are important to improve their use of information. Consideration could also be given to engaging a range of producers to write the climate forecasts themselves in the language they use and understand, in consultation with the scientists who prepare the forecasts.

Item Type:Article
Business groups:Agri-Science, Crop and Food Science
Additional Information:Reproduced with permission from © CSIRO Publishing. Access to published version may be available via Publisher’s website.
Keywords:Graziers; needs analysis; pastoralists; seasonal climate forecasting systems; ranchers; climate; decision support system; farmers knowledge; forecasting method; grazing management; information system; pastoralism; Australasia; Australia; Gascoyne Basin; Murchison Basin; Western Australia; Bos taurus; Ovis aries.
Subjects:Agriculture > Agriculture (General) > Agricultural meteorology. Crops and climate
Animal culture > Rangelands. Range management. Grazing
Deposited On:24 Dec 2007
Last Modified:08 Jun 2015 15:50

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