OPINION

Our Future || Extreme weather puts heat on chilli farming

When I began farming chilli in Bundaberg 25 years ago, everyone said it was crazy and that Asia was the only place to grow the crop.

But Asia had typhoons and Australia (at the time) didn't have wild weather, so growing chilli worked out well.

Today, we are the biggest individual chilli supplier in south-east Asia and Australasia combined.

Planting and harvesting of chillies takes place all year.

We plant every two weeks - partly because of the sensitivity of the plant which relies on good weather conditions to push out a quality crop.

But good weather isn't reliable anymore and our climate has become more unpredictable.

The chief challenge for us has been the cost of production and the changing climate has had an impact on that.

When I was young, we used to get 10 to 20 millimetres of rain and few storms.

But now we experience wild storms with hail and excessive winds.

We have extreme dries and extreme wets; every drought is broken by a flood.

In droughts like we are experiencing now we have to use a lot of irrigation and that pushes up our water and energy costs.

The other challenge we face is the rising costs of crop insurance.

When farmers experience devastation like the 2013 Bundaberg floods or the more recent Townsville flood this year, we need support in re-establishing our operations.

But insurers are growing increasingly scared of underwriting disasters.

Meanwhile, we continue to do the best we can to keep costs down and reduce the risks associated with a changing climate.

We have invested heavily in technology including a 300kw solar system on our roof which provides 20 per cent of our total power needs.

But even here, we aren't allowed to make the best use of our solar.

On the weekends when we don't work, the solar sits there doing nothing as we aren't allowed to put it back into the grid.

If the Federal Government wants to help farmers reduce energy consumption and pressure on the grid, they should be investing in battery storage technology pretty smartly.

We were forward thinking in bringing home-grown chillis to the Australian public.

Now we need government to be just as forward thinking in how farming is going to remain sustainable into the future.

David De Paoli, Founder and Managing Director, Austchilli