Saturday, August 14, 2010

Will Australia's bumper wheat crop survive the season?

Stock and Land (Australia): In A year of highly volatile global weather, what are the chances of eastern States wheat growers getting crops through unscathed to a bumper harvest? That’s too hard to call, the Bureau of Meterology (BoM) says, but at this point all the signs are positive. With a La Nina climate cycle prevailing, the odds of average or above average rainfall for the rest of the growing season are looking “pretty good”, according to Dr Karl Braganza, manager of climate monitoring at the BoM.

However, the planet has just experienced its warmest six months on record. Heatwaves, fires and floods have hit large swathes of the northern hemisphere, apparently fulfilling forecasts that climatic variability will increase as the planet warms.

Dr Braganza wouldn’t speculate whether in coming months similar extremes might hit Australia - already the continent with the world’s most variable climate - but he did say that seasonal rainfall to date hadn’t yet broken the back of the long-term 10-12 year drought in the country’s south-east. “The long-term drought really is about this 15-20 per cent reduction in autumn-winter rainfall.”

“If you have a look at June and the start of August there are some really dry periods that have the characteristics that we've seen over the last 10-12 years.” That’s chiefly an issue for graingrowers in more marginal areas, where rainfall patterns only have to alter slightly to make the difference between a harvest and a write-off.

Dr Braganza suggests that cropping in such areas is likely to become even more challenging. “When the warming starts to ramp up, as it will over the next 30 years, climate starts to become quite unpredictable,” he said….

Wheat growing in Australia, circa 1915

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