Less rainfall and more extreme weather events around Australia have farmers moving down to the Great South Coast region around Warrnambool in south western Victoria. As pressure builds, learn what some are doing to preserve the area's temperate climate.
In the heart of prime dairy country, third-generation Ecklin South farmer Sam Doolan stands ready to welcome a bus-load of children from Melbourne.
They've come to see just one of two carbon-powered hot water systems in Australia.
But milking state-of-the-art technology to boost production is not what the farmer of three decades is peddling.
"We teach the children what sustainable agriculture means and how we're trying to meet the food needs of the country today without jeopardising the next generation," Sam explains.
"It's all about trying to make our farm as sustainable as possible while still producing the same or more milk."
That's what he's been teaching his own children.
"We have to help the next generation," Sam says.
"I've got four kids, my brother Peter has two and our other brother has four so there's 10 Doolan kids who could become the fourth generation to run this farm.
"We're trying to put things in place now so they'll have a better future, just like our parents did for us."
Peter says that future is at risk from destabilisation.
"Our climate is very temperate here, rainfall is our biggest asset and we're getting a lot of pressure from the beef and crop farmers from up north who are coming down because they realise how much rain we get," he says.
"They're all slowly moving from the marginal country and into our dairy zone. The proof in the pudding is that it's drying up north.
"We get about 800-900 millimetres a year so if that was to get impacted by climate change, the losses would be countless. We'd lose our ability to grow our own feed and in the dairy industry that's a big asset."
Less rainfall and more extreme weather events have Warrnambool's climate mooted to match Benalla's, 450 kilometres to the north east, by 2050.
That's a projection based on Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning observations.
Heytesbury District and Landcare Network co-ordinator Geoff Rollinson says the region is not immune from climate destabilisation.
"The modelling does show the south-west is going to be one of the most impacted regions in Australia," he said.
"With rising temperatures and reduced rainfall, there's some suggestion that by 2050 Warrnambool's climate will change drastically."
The Great South Coast could see average temperatures increase up to 2.6 degrees with twice as many days over 35 by the mid-century while annual rainfall is tipped to decrease by 20 millimetres according to DELWP.
Those changes are already happening. The latest State of the Environment Report noted a 10-20 per cent decrease in post-1997 rainfall levels in southern Victoria.
The average number of days per year when the temperature reached 45 °C somewhere in Victoria also increased from 0.3 in 1961-2000 to 2.6 in 2011-20.
Among key drivers flagged in the report was the intensification of agricultural practices across a five-year period.
If that continues, fodder and pasture production patterns could change, heat and frost stress on livestock and crops could intensify and water security could reduce significantly.
Mr Rollinson says that's not lost on farmers.
"Some farmers in our district are taking preemptive action on that," he says.
"There are an increasing number who are conscious of their impacts on climate and who are doing things to directly offset those activities.
"That challenges the belief held by many that farmers are environmental vandals."
Dartmoor cattle farmer Michael Greenham is one of those people.
He's reduced methane by focusing on pasture feeding rather than grain, been judicious with his use of nitrogen fertilisers and replaced gas with solar.
Mr Greenham says consistent rainfall puts the region's farmers in a unique position to act.
"The regression of the rainfall and temperature lines southwards has been well-established for years and means Warrnambool will be drier and warmer in the near-future," he says.
"Our rainfall means we're better-placed than most, so farmers should act now."
Mr Greenham is a member of Farmers for Climate Action, a group he says is gaining popularity.
"I had a stall at Hamilton's Sheepvention and we had about 40 people sign up," he says.
"We've seen real movement in the past four years that wasn't there before. I know about a dozen farmers from the south-west who are in the group.
"It's much better to be ahead of the game and be ready for change than to wait and struggle to cope."
Dairy farmer Sam Doolan is well ahead of the game.
He's planted 5000 trees, installed solar and an underground water tank and cooler and trialling multi-species crops.
In November more than 100 people from across the district converged on his farm to see the results of an experimental carbon-powered hot water system.
"We've had a few field days here because of all the stuff we've been doing - it's generated a lot of interest," he enthuses.
"The dairy was 27 years old so we needed to upgrade the milk cooling anyway. We did a full energy audit of the dairy and installed a monitoring system which observed everything that drew power at the dairy for a year.
"At the end of that year we identified what was using the most power and that was heating water for cleaning and cooling our milk.
"That was 50 per cent of our energy use and cost so we chose to upgrade those to lessen the greenhouse gasses associated with milking.
"We installed a small chiller which cools water and stores it in a 52,000 litre underground tank. We also installed a new hot water heater which runs off CO2 as a refrigerant which heats water rather than air.
"We've put 100 kilowatts of solar on the roofs so we can run all our dairy stuff during the day for free rather than pull power out of the grid."
He says they are just two of the major projects.
"In 2018 we were also the guinea pig farm for the Heytesbury District Landcare Keeping Carbon On The Farm program," Sam says.
"We tried planting different species of crops and fertilising with compost and bio char rather than using synthetic fertiliser."
Sam says it is encouraging to see farmers following his lead.
"The interest is there and farmers - especially the younger generation - understand the time to change is now," he says.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can access our trusted content:
Have you signed up to The Standard's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in the south-west.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.