Milne opened the discussion by saying, “It’s pretty obvious to me that the more extreme weather events you have around the world … the more you will have massive inflation of food pricing.” University of Queensland researcher and panel member Peter Gous said this is pertinent to the beer industry because “it only takes one hot day” to destroy a crop of grain.
This is particularly sobering considering the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO’s 2014 State of the Climate report, which estimates up to a 1.5-degree increase in temperature by 2030. Without intervention, beer production will increasingly be stymied by extreme weather, and the humble schooner may be relegated to the cabinet of alcoholic collectibles, alongside Penfolds Grange and baby mouse wine.
Sydney University Associate Professor and food security expert Bill Pritchard says steps must be taken immediately to counter the impact of climate change on grain growers. “You need to empower the farmers to give them the skills to adapt. They need to be able to look five or 10 years out at the kind of pest and disease threats that are going to change … We need to start thinking about that now.”
While the panel unanimously agreed on the need to invest in sustainable technologies, temperature resilient foods, and industry training that focuses on adaptation, there was also a general lament over a lack of related government funding. The Commonwealth’s recent budget cuts to the CSIRO’s climate initiatives were cited as particularly harmful measures. These cuts involve the merging of the Australian Climate Change Science Program into a National Environment Scheme for a saving of $22 million.
In response to the panel’s calls for more research funding, Milne said, “The main message that we can get from this is that it’s short changing the future of Australia to not spend money on research and development in agriculture.”
It remains a possibility that the Federal Cabinet may prefer imported beers and, hence, sees little incentive to support local brewers. There is even speculation that, at a recent staff gathering, Education Minister Christopher Pyne ordered an Asahi from a menu that also offered Victorian Bitter.
While federal and state funding is not under the purview of Young Henry’s owner, Richard Adamson, his business is taking a number of steps to ensure they leave a clean carbon footprint. Young Henry’s brewery uses less water, energy, and fewer raw materials than most commercial breweries, while their spent grain is used to feed livestock.
The brewery also provides a discount to customers who return purchased growlers for reuse. Adamson says that this closed-loop scheme benefits the environment and introduces a “feel good factor” that strengthens the business’s sense of community.
So for all of those sceptics out there, jump on the climate change train and you’ll be supporting beer.