BOM data shows January the hottest month in Australia on record

According to Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) data, it was the hottest January for the nation as a whole on record with a blistering start to the year.

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The mean temperature for January averaged across country exceeded 30 degrees, the first time this has occurred in any month ever.

BOM senior climatologist Andrew Watkins said the heat through January was unprecedented in terms of both the duration of hot days and daily maximum temperatures right across the country.

High pressure systems loitering in the Tasman sea were the major cause, in particular influencing the weather in the country’s south-east.

“The main contributor to this heat was a persistent high-pressure system in the Tasman sea which was blocking any cold fronts and cooler air from impacting the south of the country,” Dr Watkins said.

Further north, a delayed onset to the monsoon, which has broken with a vengeance now after dumping over a metre of rain over Townsville in the last week, meant cooler, moist air did not keep a cap on temperatures in the tropics.

Dr Watkins said while seasonal climate drivers were a factor, climate change also played a role.

“The warming trend which has seen Australian temperatures increase by more than a degree in the last 100 years also contributed to the unusually warm conditions.”

Many parts of the country that normally see good January rain, such as the northern NSW coast, also experienced one of their driest Januarys on record.

Much of Victoria had just 20 per cent of its average January rain, with many centres recording no rainfall.

It was a similar story in south-east Queensland, with Brisbane tipping out just 20pc of its long-term average January rainfall.

In terms of temperature records, South Australia and Victoria were the focal points, while the ACT had four days in a row over 40, the longest in history.

A number of Victorian centres endured their hottest daily temperature, while in South Australia, temperatures nudged 50.

Even in Queensland, which normally has tropical storms keeping a lid on overall temperatures, the month was one of the hottest on record.

Western Australia was slightly milder than the rest of the nation, while it was warm overall, cooler than average maximums on parts of the west and south-west of the state kept overall figures below record levels.

Source: Farm Weekly 2019-02

From drought to flooding rains as farmers celebrate drenching

Farmers have been rejoicing in parts of western Queensland after going from parched dusty paddocks to flooding rains.

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While the drought is far from broken and plenty of graziers are yet to receive falls, for the lucky ones the past four days have brought a reprieve that is the stuff of dreams.

Days of steady, falling rain from a monsoon trough, with no storm activity or disastrous winds, provided the long-falling, beautiful moisture that outback paddocks were desperate for.

McKinlay Shire Mayor Belinda Murphy said the transformation was hard to fathom.

“You just can’t believe that just over a week ago, you would have been standing in a paddock full of dust wondering how on Earth we’re going to deal with this year, and what’s going to happen with it being being consistently over 40 degrees [Celsius].

“A week later, you’re isolated [and] being surrounded by floodwaters,” she said.

Danielle Doyle was making her way home to Mittiebah Station in the Northern Territory after dropping her children at boarding school in south-east Queensland when she, her husband, and their youngest child got stuck in McKinlay.

She said they were part of a merry band of about 40 people stuck in the small town, which has a population of about 180.

Ms Doyle said, thankfully, they were not the only family stranded, with another family also trying to head back to the Northern Territory with their three children.

“I think everyone is doing really well. There could be worse places to be stuck than a pub,” Ms Doyle said. “Debbie and Frank who own the Walkabout Creek Hotel have been so welcoming and helpful.

The Doyles were part of the lucky group who were given free meat off the Woolworths truck, something Ms Doyle said was appreciated by the stranded travellers.

“There are quite a few trucks stuck here, and as my mum says, it’s better to be born lucky than born rich, and there’s both a Woolies and a Coles truck stuck here,” she said.

“They let us take all this meat and it’s been distributed all through the community in McKinlay and down to Kynuna.”

A welcome break

Meanwhile, Don Patterson from Cassillis Station, 60 kilometres south of Richmond, said he was happy to welcome a small break from the rain over the weekend.

Mr Patterson said, up until Friday, he had recorded an incredible 305 millimetres of rain, but over the weekend saw only 10mm drop into the gauge.

“We’re pretty happy, hey, and it firmed the ground up a little bit,” he said.

Mr Patterson’s block is black soil country, which means stock can easily get stuck in soggy ground.

He said the break from rain let the soil settle and sink down, making way for green grass to poke through.

“Once the sun comes out it should take off pretty quick because there’s still a little bit of stubble in the ground,” he said.

“It’s a very good start to the year.”

‘A godsend’

Cloncurry Mayor Greg Campbell has watched his region go from breaking a Queensland heat record of consecutive days over 40C, to receiving more than 300mm of rain.

Cr Campbell has been stranded in Richmond, but said he had been kept busy talking to everyone at home.

“It’s been a fantastic weather system over the weekend,” Cr Campbell said.

“There’s been anything from 200mm to 300mm around the shire.

The dam, which was sitting at 30 per cent, is now at 100 per cent, which Cr Campbell said was important not just for town water for commercial use, but for town morale.

“We’re trying to save that water not just for commercial use, but for the barramundi fishing, the skiing, paddle boarding, and kayaking,” he said.

Cr Campbell said there had been no major complications from the rain.

“The fantastic SES crew have tarped a couple of roofs … all our rural roads are closed at the moment, and all our highways south, east and north,” he said.

“No doubt we’ll have some road damage when we can get out and check.”

Despite the infrastructure challenges to come, Cr Campbell said there was no doubt the weather event was incredibly positive.

“I’m sure once it does ease up and we get a week of sunshine, the spirits, especially of our graziers, will lift even more seeing those green shoots appear,” he said.

Source: ABC Rural 2019-02

Australian agriculture on strong path, but 2019 to bring “headwinds”

In its Agribusiness Outlook 2019, food and agri banking specialist says Australia’s agricultural industries are set to enjoy rising offshore demand.

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Australia’s agricultural industries are set to enjoy rising offshore demand and improved market access in the years ahead, while reaping the benefits of growing investment in the sector.

However, it warns, there are “many cyclical and short-term factors” which are less favourable for Australian agriculture entering 2019, including climate and the global economic outlook. “And some headwinds are rising, while tailwinds are softening,” it says.

The report’s lead author, RaboResearch general manager Tim Hunt says the next five years will see continuing growth in demand for Australian agricultural produce in global markets, with an additional boost from improving market access.

“Barriers to China will continue to come down under the FTA and the recently-negotiated protocols for a range of products, while the trade benefits we will enjoy under the TPP, especially with Japan, will start to come into play,” he said.

“Added to this, investment which has been attracted into the sector because of these export market opportunities will further boost the sector’s productive and value-adding capacity.”

Other positives – “price will be the industry’s friend”

The report says other positive factors playing out in Australian agriculture’s favour are a weak (and falling) currency, combined with strong local price basis, which is ensuring exceptionally-high Australian dollar prices for many key agricultural commodities.

“We expect that a slowing global and local economy, combined with concerns over downside risk, will see Australian exporters enjoy the lowest annual average exchange rate against the greenback in a decade in 2019,” Mr Hunt said.

“Meanwhile, the poor 2018 grain harvest, and low beef and sheep herds, will keep the prices for Australian crops and livestock higher than usual compared with world prices over most or all of 2019.

“And with dairy and sugar markets also tightening globally, and wool markets only likely to see a slow retraction from record levels, price will be the industry’s friend in 2019.”

Mounting headwinds

But Australian agriculture also faces less favourable conditions on many fronts.

Climate factors loom as the “most obvious” problem for the sector in the year ahead, the report says.

“We have opened the year with a majority of eastern Australia in the midst of significant long-term rainfall deficiencies,” Mr Hunt said. “Murray Darling Basin water storage levels are low and pasture is in poor condition in many grazing regions.

“For winter production to return to average on the east coast this season, above-average rainfall is required in coming months. At present, climate indicators provide mixed signals as to whether that is likely or not.”

At market level, Rabobank says, the global economy is starting to decelerate after two years of strong and rising growth. Locally, Australian consumers also face rising economic pressures as “east coast housing prices enter what looks like a major correction, mortgage rates rise and wages growth remains absent”.

Mr Hunt says forecasts for global economic growth – including by Rabobank – are being reduced, to just below average. “While economic forecasts don’t look too bad, the language economists are using suggests a level of pessimism that is not yet factored into these numbers,” he said.

“What concerns us most in 2019 is not so much the likely path for the global economy –which is less favourable than 2018, but not bad – but the risk something worse may eventuate.”

This includes the slowing Chinese economy and escalating international trade tensions, the report says.

“The slowdown in the Chinese economy is a particular concern for Australian ag,” Mr Hunt said, with China growing at its slowest rate since 1990 in the closing quarter of 2018.Brexit and the risk of a “calamitous exit” of the UK from the EU was also looming large. “A no-deal departure would have a heavy impact in two key markets for Australian agricultural products,” he said.

The potential of both a worsening or a resolution of the US/China trade war also brought its own set of risks. “These include flow-on impacts on consumption from a possible US recession if the trade war escalates, or indeed a resolution that favours US agriculture at the expense of Australia,” Mr Hunt said.

Outlook

Overall, the Rabobank report says, if Australia sees a return to “something approaching average rainfall, our base case suggests 2019 will bring a decent year for Australian agriculture – with improved production conditions offsetting what we expect will be somewhat less favourable condition”.

“But Australian agriculture would do well to consider the downside market risks when planning for the next season.”

Source: Australian Farmers 2019-01

Bushfires devastate Tasmanian leatherwood honey production

The price of Tasmanian honey is expected to soar this year after dry conditions and fires across the state deliver worst season in 35 years.

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Hives have been wiped out along with large amounts of valuable leatherwood trees that are expected to take more than 100 years to recover.

About 70 per cent of the state’s honey produced using leatherwood, a rainforest tree that flowers annually over summer.

Tasmanian Beekeepers Association vice president Peter Norris said it had already been a challenging season with the trees struggling to flower.

Combined with the fires which have ravaged wilderness areas, Mr Norris said it was a perfect storm for the industry.

“It’s just a disaster. We haven’t got a lot of leatherwood anyway,” he said. “Leatherwood doesn’t handle fire, it takes a couple of hundred years to come back.”

He said the impacts would affect generations of honey producers.

“We’re never going to see it recover — once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

Production to plummet

The honey produced in Tasmania is worth more than $10 million at bulk price, and much more at retail prices.

Mr Norris said production would be down 75 per cent, making it the worst season in 35 years.

“Leatherwood honey will be scarce for years to come,” he said.

The tree is crucial to the industry because it flowers annually, unlike other varieties of linked to honey production.

“Prices are bound to go up this year — by a lot.”

Leatherwood has been lost in the Florentine Valley from the Gell River Fire and on the West Coast with the Zeehan fire, he said.

“That’s a shame because it’s an excellent leatherwood resource [in Zeehan].”

Hives lost in fires

Mr Norris keeps 150 hives in the Florentine Valley and had expected to lose them all when the Gell River Fire jumped the Gordon River and ran into the Needles.

He went to check on his hives over the weekend and was surprised to hear from Parks and Wildlife that they were intact.

“We had 150 hives at risk there and I think they are OK; they may have been waterbombed,” he said.

“It’s pretty devastating out there. It’s terrible where it’s crossed the Gordon River Road and has gone up into the Needles.”

He said other beekeepers had lost hives on Scotts Peak Road in the Southwest and in the Tahune area where the Riveaux Road fire burned out of control.

Access has been difficult so many keepers don’t know how their hives have fared.

“Hives I can replace, leatherwood I can’t replace,” Mr Norrise said.

The bushfires, some of which have been going since before Christmas, have burned more than 190,000 hectares.

Source: ABC News 2019-02

Declaration urges changes to Murray-Darling Basin administration

A group of concerned Australian academics says billions of dollars have been wasted along the Murray-Darling Basin irrigation projects.

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The group, which includes economists and some of the nation’s top water scientists, released a declaration in Adelaide this morning urging fundamental changes to the way the system is administered.

Those changes include halting subsidies and grants to irrigators that have been introduced under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

According to the researchers, $6 billion has already been spent on water recovery projects across the Basin, including $4 billion to subsidise irrigation.

“For many of these projects there is no scientific evidence that they have actually increased net stream flows,” the scientists stated.

“Despite allocating half a billion dollars in 2007 to upgrade water meters in the Basin, as much as 75 per cent of all surface water diversions in the northern part of the Basin may still not have water meters.”

The criticisms have been rejected by the Federal Government, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and the National Irrigators Council.

The declaration also calls for an independent audit of all water recovery measures across the Basin, and a new scientific body to advise governments on the implementation of the 2007 Federal Water Act.

Former head of CSIRO Land & Water, Professor John Williams, said the science underpinning current water policy was deeply flawed and called for immediate changes to ensure more water flow through the system.

“We’ve got to have a river system that has sufficient water flow to flood, recharge groundwater, take salt to the ocean and provide wetlands and habitat,” he said. “Our current system is not doing that.”

According to data cited by the scientists for The Conversation, buying water back from irrigators is “60 per cent cheaper” than spending on irrigation engineering projects.

Professor Williams said currently, authorities were “playing accounting games” that made it “look as though we’re doing something”.

Both Professor Williams and Associate Professor David Paton from the University of Adelaide described the Coorong in South Australia as a “barometer” for the system’s health.

Professor Paton said the number of migratory birds in the region has declined hugely since the 1980s.

“The last two years have probably been the two lowest abundances… that we’ve had in the system ever, lower than they were during the Millennium Drought,” he said.

“The Murray-Darling Basin Authority simply says ‘we’re not expecting recovery until the plan’s been delivered, until 2024’. Well sorry, you’ve been putting water back. You should start to see some recovery if it’s really going to make a difference.”

Professor Paton said a plan to transfer water into the Coorong was misguided and would permanently alter the nature of the area.

He also said the nation was not meeting several of its international environmental obligations, including the Ramsar Convention, and accused the Federal Government of indifference.

“The Prime Minister said we’re a country that abides by our international obligations. This is an international obligation that all governments are just turning their backs on,” he said.

‘Simply not true’: MDBA rejects declaration

The agency tasked with overseeing the multi-billion-dollar basin reform plan, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, has hit back at the scientists’ claims.

“Claims that the plan’s investment in more modern and efficient water infrastructure is not delivering benefits for the environment are simply not true,” chief executive Phillip Glyde said.

The authority said the plan was a “visionary, long-term policy” and that water infrastructure efficiency programs had already helped recover water for the environment.

“The Basin Plan was neither expected nor intended to deliver immediate results,” Mr Glyde said.

“It is simply not possible to repair 100 years of damage to such a vast river system overnight, or even within five years.”

Federal Assistant Water Minister Anne Ruston said the recommendations did not factor in the economic needs of farming communities in the basin, and that favouring water buybacks could be harmful.

“We can’t just decimate out regional communities by buying back water out of them and leaving them with no means of future existence,” she said.

“The report is strong on motherhood statements but light on science and fact … and also fails to recognise the implantation of the plan is a 12-year process.

“The first people to be screaming at us for not delivering the plan on time will be these people [the scientists], and yet they are now the ones telling us to stop the plan.”

National Irrigators Council CEO Steve Whan also criticised the scientists’ findings, saying the benefits would be witnessed by future generations.

“The important thing about this to remember we are five years into a plan that is going to take a number of years to implement, but [it takes] decades to see good environmental outcomes,” he said.

Source: ABC News 2019-02

Lower Darling River to run dry as authorities plan to stop flows

Authorities in far west New South Wales are preparing to stop releases of water into the lower Darling River cutting off flows to the region.

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WaterNSW will likely close the gates to Menindee’s Weir 32 within a week, to conserve the drinking water supply for Menindee and Broken Hill being held in the Menindee Lakes.

The agency has conceded that cutting off releases from the lakes into the lower Darling could result in further fish deaths.

Citrus growers along the lower Darling have already watched the river stop flowing twice in recent years, and temporary block banks have again been constructed to allow landholders access to pools for stock and domestic use.

Alan Whyte from Jamesville Station on the river said he had been expecting the move.

“We have access to water from one of the block banks, and realistically the majority of properties will have access to the block banks, but not everyone will,” Mr Whyte said.

“So there will be some properties running out of water in the next week, or two, or three.”

WaterNSW was going to shut the gates on Tuesday, but postponed it to work with fisheries managers on a plan to guard against further fish kills.

“[Fisheries authorities] are … looking at what type of options they’ve got at the moment, to advise us as to what we can do to mitigate the risk once the flows actually cease,” Mr Langdon said.

“So we’re probably going to postpone it for three or four days while they finish their work.”

For lower Darling growers, it is the fourth time since 2003 the river has stopped flowing.

“The river had been running continuously before then back to 1943,” Mr Whyte said.

“Everyone — state and federal — has got to start treating the river as the highest priority.

“This mess was preventable.”

Focus on town supplies

Drinking water for Menindee and Broken Hill is sourced from the Menindee Lakes system.

The last major intake of water for the lakes was in winter 2016.

“It’s actually balancing the need of the Menindee community with the needs of the lower Darling community,” Mr Langdon said.

“We’ve still got around about 19 gigalitres behind the main weir in Lake Wetherell.

“We expect that that supply there should be able to maintain the local community through to spring without any further inflows.”

A 270-kilometre pipeline from the Murray River to Broken Hill is almost ready to be switched on.

Once that happens, Broken Hill will no longer be reliant on water from the Darling River system.

Fish still struggling at weir

After three major fish kills at the Menindee Lakes, there were no signs that conditions for the remaining fish were improving.

Menindee local Graeme McCrabb said there were more than a dozen cod, perch and brim struggling to breathe in the pool below Weir 32 on Wednesday.

“There’s potentially 17 to 20 that will … die this week,” he said. “There’s two or three that just keep rolling belly-up.

“They are breaking the water, their back is out of the water.”

Another donated aerator was due to arrive at Menindee yesterday, but Mr McCrabb said it was difficult to know whether the fish had a better chance where they were or being moved to another pool.

Source: ABC News 2019-02

Sources include: ABC Rural, The Land, The Weekly Times, Stock and Land, Stock Journal, Bloomberg, Farm Online, Queensland Country Life

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