Business impacts of extreme weather events on fruit farming in Australia: A case study of selected tropical fruits in Central Queensland
thesisposted on 01.05.2022, 00:10 by Mst Sabrina HaqueMst Sabrina Haque
Australia is acknowledged as one of the most susceptible developed countries in relation to experiencing impacts from global climate change. Experts predicted that extreme weather events (EWEs) might result in impacts of around $3.2 billion in losses in relation to Australian fruit farming industries but very little is known about how regional farmers and their businesses can cope with these threats. Particularly, the Central Queensland (CQ) region has experienced several severe weather events in the five years prior to 2020 (cyclone Marcia, the Queensland flood of 2017 and cyclone Debbie) which has made farmers and stakeholders worried about the financial resilience and sustainability of their businesses. The risk of negative impacts on tropical fruit farms is considered highly likely, due to the expected increase in EWEs such as storm surges, cyclones, floods and heatwaves. Although several studies have been conducted in Australia to investigate the biophysical impacts of EWEs on fruits such as pome and citrus, very little is known about the business impacts of EWEs on tropical fruits. This research aimed to explore the business impacts of EWEs experienced by the tropical fruit farming sector, including producers, transport/processing operators and agribusiness supporting organisations in the Central Queensland region, and with reference to their past and present adaptation strategies to EWEs. A detailed review of literature has been used to identify the issues (business impacts) that fruit farms are facing due to EWEs and a conceptual framework has been developed to link impacts with adaptation strategies. A mixed method technique was employed to collect, analyse and interpret both quantitative and qualitative research data. An exploratory (non-experimental) research design was used to observe the relationships between different variables relating to impacts and EWEs. Following the review of literature, secondary data relating to historical EWEs and fruit production (mango, pineapple and lychee) in the CQ region were collected to observe the patterns and relationships between EWEs and fruit production in this region. The qualitative aspect of the study involved nine in-depth interviews conducted via face-to-face or telephone. The interviewees were engaged from the different sectors of the fruit farming business which includes fruit farming industry representatives, financial insurance representatives, local and state government representatives, farm suppliers and horticultural experts. The interview data were analysed through thematic content analysis and narrative analysis. The key themes were identified from the interview responses and participants’ responses were narrated to understand the stakeholders’ dominant perceptions on business impacts of EWEs. The interview results revealed that the fruit farming supply chains are hampered by EWEs occurring in the case study region. Also, while farmers and stakeholders have applied some adaptation strategies, these are not considered sufficient iii for long-term business sustainability. The interviewees suggested that increased collaboration amongst farmers, industries and government would help to achieve greater adaptation success. Beside stakeholders’ perceptions, this study also included an online and/or face-to-face survey with 39 fruit growers to collect information regarding farmers’ perceptions of business impacts of EWEs. Descriptive statistics were used to illustrate the farmers’ perceptions about business impacts of EWEs. The Pearson correlation of coefficient and Chi-square tests were conducted to examine the associations and relationships between different variables. The result of the farmers’ survey was closely aligned with the key themes that emerged from the stakeholder interviews. For example, only a small proportion of farmers appear to be currently practicing adaptation strategies in day-to-day operations; some farmers are planning to introduce adaptations on-farm in the future, but for this they need some industry and government level support. A gap was identified in that farmers regard themselves as requiring upskilling in the areas of using (online) information and farm technology. Finally, based on the key findings, the study resulted in recommendations at the government, industry sector and farm level, each relating to reducing the adverse impacts of EWEs on fruit farming businesses. These included considering government-subsidised farm equipment (for implementing adaptation strategies) and crop insurance; restructuring of the government’s natural disaster relief policy; enhancing industry-level extension services; and further developing self-preparedness skills in the tropical fruit farming community. The thesis concludes with an identification of areas for future research. This research has particular relevance and value for producers, industry and government in identifying and implementing ways to improve the adaptability of the tropical fruit farming sector to cope with extreme weather events, particularly in Australia but also in other countries with similar climatic zones and levels of agricultural economic development.