Important weather predictions for Australian agriculture

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 22nd August 2011

Australia’s huge agricultural commodity producers and price-watchers place much emphasis on long-term weather forecasting.

Recent market predictions might be further impacted by recent predictions for an unusual La Niña-dominated wet weather pattern in eastern Australia for the Australian summer at the end of calendar 2011.

La Niña to return?

The latest data from Ocean Pacific weather predictors envisage La Niña conditions returning again to Australia for the second year running. The La Niña weather phenomenon (which operates in converse to the drought-associated El Niño pattern) contributed a deluge in Australia in 2010, resulting in large parts of Queensland going under water from floods or being battered by tropical cyclones.

This week, the Queensland Climate Change Centre of Excellence’s (QCCCE) published its first indicators of summer rain. QCCCE’s forecast is based on “leading indicators” of sea surface temperature conditions – an “early warning” tool for possible La Nina conditions in the summer months for Australia. The indicators are almost identical to last year at this time – 94.5% chance of normal or above normal rain (66.7% above) in the November to March period compared to 94.7% (68.4% above) last year.

This forecast by the QCCCE also echoes a forecast last week from the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC), which has forecasted wet weather – a result of the La Niña condition, which it believes will “come back late this year and persist during the whole of 2012”.

NAB: “Below average wheat yields expected”

According to a National Australian Bank (NAB) economic forecast issued this week, Australia’s wheat output for the year beginning 1 October 2011 will be 21.8 million metric tonnes – 11.9 per cent below the NAB’s previous forecast in April 2011 of 24.75 million metric tonnes. However, NAB points to forecasted dry weather in New South Wales and Queensland for the weakened output.

NAB projects a 10 million tonne output for Australia’s east coast crop (New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria) while its expectation for Western Australia is 8 million tonnes.

NAB’s Agribusiness Economist Michael Creed said, “Driving our view has been the conditions across central/northern New South Wales and southern Queensland. A significant lack of rainfall in the Brisbane and Newcastle port zones had managed to significantly erode topsoil moisture while crop development has been generally slow. In fact, if it were not for the rainfall last week across these regions, a lower Australian crop would be on the cards.

“Fortunately, excellent fronts across the Riverina should manage to consolidate yields and prevent a collapse of the New South Wales crop. By state, we expect average yields in Western Australia and South Australia. Average yields are anticipated in Victoria while below average yields are expected in New South Wales and Queensland.

“At this stage, considerable risk exists either way, spring rain remains vital for crop development and this poses both upside and downside risk over the next few months. A further risk that will need to be watched over the spring will be possible damage from mice on the South Australian, Victorian and New South Wales crops.”

Rice growers expect more wet weather

In its annual report published in April 2011, Australian rice exporter SunRice described the impact that La Nina conditions had on rice production in Australia in late Winter 2010. The report said, “Winter crop plantings were in the best shape for many years and while general security water allocation was slow to build due to the need for catchments to “wet up”, our growers remained optimistic and commenced land preparation for rice. Many growers had not been able to plant a rice crop since 2005/06 and there was a buzz of excitement across the Riverina. A significant amount of water is available for carry over to the 2011/12 season.”

If weather predictions for another La Nina transpire, then when added to a major carry-over of existing water supplies, the outlook for rice production in Australia is good.


Australia’s largest processors of milk reported earlier in 2011 that extensive flooding in January 2011 in key production areas such as Victoria gave milk producers difficulties in maintaining their milk production levels during that flood period in the Australian summer. Milk production normally tails off in the summer months because of lower rainfalls.

However, a combination of heavier-than-average rainfall predicted in south-eastern Australia on account of the La Nina effect for the southern summer months of December 2011 – March 2012 and the subsequent southern winter of 2012 would augur well for Australian dairy production volumes over the longer term in 2012.