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Harvest disruption projections for the Australian sugar industry

Justin Sexton (School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia)
Yvette Everingham (School of Engineering and Physical Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, Australia)
Bertrand Timbal (Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, Australian Bureau of Meterology, Melbourne, Australia)

International Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management

ISSN: 1756-8692

Article publication date: 16 March 2015



This study aims to investigate the effects of climate change on harvestability for sugarcane-growing regions situated between mountain ranges and the narrow east Australian coastline.


Daily rainfall simulations from 11 general circulation models (GCMs) were downscaled for seven Australian sugarcane regions (1961:2000). Unharvestable days were calculated from these 11 GCMs and compared to interpolated observed data. The historical downscaled GCM simulations were then compared to simulations under low (B1) and high (A2) emissions scenarios for the period of 2046-2065. The 25th, 50th and 75th percentiles of paired model differences were assessed using 95 per cent bootstrapped confidence intervals.


A decrease in the number of unharvestable days for the Burdekin (winter/spring) and Bundaberg (winter) regions and an increase for the Herbert region (spring) were plausible under the A2 scenario. Spatial plots identified variability within regions. Northern and southern regions were more variable than central regions.

Practical implications

Changes to the frequency of unharvestable days may require a range of management adaptations such as modifying the harvest period and upgrading harvesting technologies.


The application of a targeted industry rainfall parameter (unharvestable days) obtained from downscaled climate models provided a novel approach to investigate the impacts of climate change. This research forms a baseline for industry discussion and adaptation planning towards an environmentally and economically sustainable future. The methodology outlined can easily be extended to other primary industries impacted by wet weather.



The authors would like to thank Yang Wang and Alex Evans for their help with data acquisition. Rodney Neilson, John Markley, Paul Brown, Ben Mayo, Dale Thomas and Jack Katzfey for help with identification of sugarcane-growing regions. The authors acknowledge the international modelling groups for providing their data for analysis, the PCMDI for collecting and archiving the model data, the Joint Scientific Committee (JSC)/Climate and Ocean Variability, Predictability and Change (CLIVAR) WGCM and their CMIP and Climate Simulation Panel for organising the model data analysis activity and the IPCC WG1 TSU for technical support. The IPCC Data Archive at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is supported by the Office of Science, USA Department of Energy. This project was funded by the Sugar Research and Development Corporation.


Sexton, J., Everingham, Y. and Timbal, B. (2015), "Harvest disruption projections for the Australian sugar industry", International Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management, Vol. 7 No. 1, pp. 41-57.



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