BOM declares 2018 Australia’s third-hottest year on record

2018 was hot and dry, and the Bureau of Meteorology’s (BOM) annual climate statement has just made it official.

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Key points:

  • 2018 was the third-hottest year on record
  • Rainfall was down 11 per cent on average, and was the lowest since 2005
  • The low rainfall, particularly over parts of the eastern states, culminated in “severe drought” in the second half of 2018

According to Karl Braganza, BOM’s head of climate monitoring, it was the third-warmest year on record for Australia as a whole.

“That’s just beating the previous year, which was the third-warmest year on record in 2017,” Dr Braganza said.

The warmest year on record was 2013, when temperatures were 1.33 degrees Celsius above the 1961 to 1990 mean. Second was 2005 at 1.15C above the mean, narrowly beating out 2018 at 1.14C above.

Drought really kicked in

Dr Braganza said it was the sixth-driest year for New South Wales, but overall, it was not record-breaking.

“Across Australia rainfall was about 11 per cent below average and again, it’s the lowest since 2005, which again goes back to that millennium drought period,” he said. “It’s the most significant dry period, post-millennium drought.”

He said rainfall across 2017 and 2018 had been low, particularly over parts of NSW, Queensland, and the eastern states, which had culminated in “severe drought” in the second half of last year.

September saw the lowest rainfall on record nationally and the second-lowest for any month since April 1902, during the Federation Drought, according to Dr Braganza.

In addition, high temperatures and winds had worked to exacerbate the drying.

‘Catastrophic fire conditions’

The dry conditions had a big impact on 2018.

“Looking at the inland river systems, they’re really suffering from a lack of rainfall now in Queensland and New South Wales,” Dr Braganza said.

 

“That’s had a large impact on agriculture and then the impact on fire weather on the fires themselves.”

 

Dr Braganza said some really significant out-of-season fires, like the August fires in eastern Victoria and those in Bega, were really stretching our ability to manage fire in Australia.

“That lengthening fire season, which we’ve seen trends for over the last 30 years or so, was certainly evident in 2018,” he said.

Another major event of 2018 were the late November and early December fires in Queensland.

“That was again associated with existing dry conditions leading into that [in] late November.

“We saw really significant bushfires along about a 600-kilometre stretch of coast in Queensland and catastrophic fire conditions.

“That’s been a feature of the southern states for quite some time [and] unfortunately, in 2018 parts of Queensland saw what Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and parts of NSW and West Australia have seen over the last 10 years or so.”

Climate drivers at play

This year the Indian Ocean and the Indian Ocean dipole had a big impact on our weather.

“Australia gets a large influence from both the Indian Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and then from things like climate change at the global scale,” Dr Braganza said.

“Spring was a really good example; we had conditions in the Indian Ocean that weren’t favourable to rainfall and that’s exactly what we saw across Australia.”

Across in the Pacific, the year started off with weak La Nina conditions before transitioning into a developing El Nino which has yet to eventuate.

The fact that it has been so hot for two years in a row without a strong El Nino event is significant.

“2017 and 2018 saw us reach those really high temperatures consistently across eastern Australia without that additional push from El Nino, [it] highlights the importance of the background warming trend in Australia.”

However, it was not just drought, but heatwaves too.

“We finished off the year with a burst of heat,” Dr Braganza said.

“Over the Christmas/New Year period [we] saw temperatures at least 10 degrees warmer than average across SA, Victoria, [and] southern NSW and that was enough to see Australia record its hottest December on record.”

But there was wet weather too with tropical cyclones Irving, Joyce, Kelvin, Linda, Marcus, and Nora at the beginning of the year and Owen in December, which brought 681 millimetres of rain to Halifax, near Ingham, in 24 hours.

Dry set to continue

If you were hoping some of that rain would make its way south, do not get your hopes up.

Dr Braganza said there was no relief on the cards and it is looking to stay dry until March at least.

“So we will see an extension of the warmth and the dry — and the fire season obviously has a little while to go, particularly in southern parts of the continent and inland NSW.”

The dry is only adding to the heat.

“The lack of moisture out there in the environment actually assists the sort of heatwaves that we saw around the Christmas period,” Dr Braganza said.

“I would expect we’ve got a few more heatwaves to go in summer, looking at the long-range outlook.

“So we’ll be keeping vigilance to the fire weather, probably through into autumn.”

Source: ABC News 2019-01

Lemon shortage and high demand for fresh fruit sends prices skyrocketing

Summertime means seafood and cocktails with fresh lemon for many across Australia, but prices for the fruit have skyrocketed.

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A shortage of Australian-grown lemons has caused supplies to fall and prices to spike.

The normal retail price is about $3.99 to $4.99 per kilo but as most lemons currently have to be imported, the fruit is selling for as much as $8.99 per kilo on supermarket shelves.

Citrus Australia chairman Ben Cant said the market was known to tighten during summer but the weak Australian dollar was also contributing to soaring prices.

“In the Christmas period we run predominately on imports,” Mr Cant said. “In the past, they brought in a higher degree of Spanish and Egyptian lemons, which has been cheaper, but they’ve had some quality issues, with mouldy fruit in the boxes.

“So I think that from my discussions, the safe bet is to buy the US fruits, spend a bit more money and get a good product.”

Extreme heat reduces Australia’s production volumes

Sunlands citrus grower Mark Doecke in South Australia’s Riverland said the lemon shortage was simply a problem of supply and last year’s extreme heat affecting the fruit.

“Lemon sales have grown a little bit, there is a bit of extra demand, but supply is the problem,” Mr Doecke said.

He said the extreme heat last February was one of the major causes for the fruit not to set, resulting in less fruit produced.

“Consequently, we have a very short supply of lemons at the moment and that’s why the prices are high in the supermarket,” Mr Doecke said.

He said most lemons in South Australia were picked in July and August but they picked up to five times a year, including at minor picking times.

Mr Cant said lemon consumption was increasing and traditionally, Christmas was a high-demand period.

“Lemon trees yield most of their crop in winter, so high availability is through March to October.”

Prices expected to fall, more trees being planted

Marketing and business development manager for SA Produce Market Nadia Boscaini said they were currently selling lemons from the Adelaide Hills but were expecting to see prices fall when ample supplies from Queensland came onto the market.

Mr Cant said Queensland lemon growers would start picking in February and once the fruit came onto the market, prices were expected to drop immediately.

And with lemon consumption increasing, so is production across Australia.

Mr Doecke said across the southern growing region in the past three years farmers had seen about a 30 per cent increase in the area planted with lemon trees.

“There are a lot of lemons that have gone in so as they come into production, supply will meet demand in the future,” he said.

Source: ABC Rural 2019-01

Murray fishers, ecologists look nervously north

Murray cod and yellowbelly fish deaths in the Darling River could have flow-on effects through the Murray Darling basin into the NSW/Victoria border region.

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The Darling River at Menindee, which one Menindee resident described as the “womb of yellowbelly”, has been plagued by mass fish deaths in recent months.

At the weekend a large drop in temperature killed blue-green algae, reducing the already low levels of oxygen in the water, leading to thousands of fish deaths.

Russell Mason, of Compleat Angler in Lavington, fears the effects will flow into the border region.

“So it’s not just a local thing, those yellowbellies travel the system,” he said.

“It just makes me sick, seeing cod that are 50 years old dead, everywhere.

“Even if you put the water back tomorrow it’s not something that will be fixed straight away, it will take many years to recover.”

Charles Sturt University freshwater fish ecologist Lee Baumgartner said in 2009 there was a big golden perch spawning event in the lower Darling, and those fish were discovered in the mid-Murray and Edwards rivers. He said research was ongoing.

“It’s pretty heartbreaking,” he said of the mass deaths.

Dr Baumgartner said Murray Cod spent more time in their “home range” and were not known to travel the distances yellowbelly could, so it was unlikely the Menindee incident would affect cod in Albury-Wodonga.

In a viral video, Menindee locals blame the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and the state and federal governments for draining the Menindee Lakes twice in four years, leaving fish stuck in stagnant pools.

But NSW Fisheries and Regional Water Minister Niall Blair said the problem was a lack of replenishment because of the drought.

MDBA chief executive Phillip Glyde said the Menindee Lakes were currently solely controlled by NSW, and blamed the deaths on the lack of water flow and 100 years of over-allocation of water throughout the basin.

Source: The Land 2019-01

Deadline closing in for Moreton Water Plan submissions

Allocating water in the Lockyer Valley is a complex matter and one that affects growers, their production and the wider communities they serve.

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It’s a contentious but important topic that cannot simply be swept under the rug.

Despite opposing viewpoints among the community on this issue, Growcom recognises the all-important priority is to protect Australia’s salad bowl and best represent growers’ interests.

Recently, we joined the Queensland Farmers’ Federation in meeting with the Minister for Natural Resources, Mines and Energy Dr Anthony Lynham to negotiate an extension to the submission process for the draft Moreton Water Resource Plan Amendment.

While submissions are due by COB on January 18, the department has recognised it may take some individuals more time to compile supporting information when making a submission.

Growcom urges Lockyer Valley growers to make submissions to the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy (DNRME) on the draft Moreton Water Plan Amendment before deadline closes on Friday January 18 or risk losing vital water allocation.

Growers who require more time and resources to compile supplementary material can work with the department to gather this information up until close of business Monday February 4, providing a submission is received before January 18.

Growcom thanks Mr Lynham and the DNRME for their common-sense decision in allowing this grace period for information. These submissions are a crucial step in filling data gaps and providing feedback on the proposed allocation volumes outlined in the draft Water Entitlement Notice.

We encourage growers to include any information about their historical water use in their submissions and not to ignore the deadline.

The water plan amendment process is just the first step in a longer term planning process to ensure the ongoing viability and growth of the region as a competitive agricultural production area.

We will continue to fight on behalf of our growers and look forward to working closely with Mr Lynham to look into alternative water sources to maintain the productivity of the region in 2019.

Anyone who has not yet taken the opportunity to talk with DNRME about their proposed water allocation is encouraged to call (07) 3330 4361 or make a submission at https://www.dnrme.qld.gov.au/land-water/initiatives/moreton-consultation

Source: Queensland Country Life 2019-01

Fish Kill: Cotton Australia and irrigators defend industry

Irrigators and cotton growers have hit back at suggestions they were somehow responsible for the fish kill near Medindee Lakes.

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NSW Irrigators’ Council chief executive Luke Simpkins and Cotton Australia general manager Michael Murray have both defended their respective organisations’ water use, while lamenting the fact such a disaster occurred.

Both blamed drought for the fish kill.

“What has happened is as a result of the drought and no water flowing into the rivers. This drought is a devastating time for all of us. This is not about diversions, but about inflows,” said Mr Simpkins.

“Without inflows, blue-green algae events will continue to kill fish. This was predicted in December in an ABC report and algal blooms have killed fish before,” he said.

“It should be remembered that irrigation farmers on the Upper Darling have not been allocated any water from the system for 18 months because of the drought.”

He said general security allocations (meaning the percentage of a water licence farmers are able to use) have been at zero per cent in both the Gwydir and Lower Namoi valleys.

“The water simply isn’t there for anyone.

“As we approach the state election in March and the federal election in May, it is understandable that MPs seeking re-election and candidates seeking election will want to raise their profiles by allocating blame.

“Ultimately it is their credibility that will evaporate when they seek to deny the existence of the drought and the lack of rainfall/inflows,” said Mr Simpkins.

Cotton Australia general manager Michael Murray said cotton growers should not be blamed for this week’s fish kill, nor those last month.

“New South Wales is in the grip of a long and devastating drought. This drought is impacting all agricultural sectors, including the cotton industry where this season’s crop is forecast to be at least half of last season’s,” he said.

“On the Barwon-Darling, the impact on cotton production is even more devastating with no cotton being grown in Bourke this season, down from 4000 hectares the year before.

“Further upstream at Dirranbandi (home of Cubbie Cotton), just 300 hectares of cotton has been planted, which is 1pc of what can be planted in a very good season.

“Cotton Australia is very proud of our industry that produces a quality fibre that is in demand both here at home and around the world, but as an industry we are tired of being ‘the whipping boy’ for all the problems that are being brought on by this crippling drought.

“About 18 months ago, 2000 gigalitres of water was in the Menindee Lakes before the Murray-Darling Basin Authority took the deliberate decision to accelerate releases from Menindee to meet downstream requirements and reduce overall evaporation losses from the lakes.

“In hindsight, this was probably a poor decision, but it does highlight the incredibly difficult task of managing flows in a manner that minimise losses, but ensures enough water is available for communities and the environment during extended severe droughts.

“Since July 1, 2017, irrigators have extracted just 16 gigalitres out of the Barwon-Darling – an amount that would have evaporated out of Menindee in just 16 days.

“Coupled with the extensive drought and the simple fact there has een little to no rain, the release of water from the lakes has exacerbated the conditions leading to these fish deaths,” said Mr Murray.

“What this issue highlights is how difficult the management of the Menindee Lakes is.”

Source: The Land 2019-01

Macadamia growing regions in Queensland are cracking ahead

Demand for a consistent year round supply of macadamia nuts is propelling the expansion of the niche industry in Queensland.

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Costi Farms managing director Peter Costi sees a bright future for Australia’s estimated 300 growers.

The 150 growers affiliated with Macadamia Processing Company now have enough supply between the factories to be major suppliers of Woolworths in Australia and Costco in the US.

Mr Costi started his career in macadamias at the age of about 12, spending time with the world’s largest grower Phil Zadro in Bundaberg.

He bought his first farm at Baffle Creek in 1998, then planted a significant holding in Rockhampton, which was sold to an American company in 2006.

At that time, the price for macadamias had softened and Mr Costi seized the opportunity to buy established farms.

“I saw the opportunity to buy distressed farms, I bought a lot and turned them around so built our business on purchasing large farms that had income straight away,” Mr Costi said.

He now has eight farms from Bundaberg to Mount Beerwah and the factories he is involved with produce about 51 per cent of Australia’s entire macadamia crop.

Macadamias are grown predominantly in central and south-east Queensland and on the NSW north coast.

They are harvested between March to the end of August and Australia’s growers yield about 47,000-48,000 tonnes a year.

“Macadamias have really turned the corner as far as being a boutique nut, and it has been hard to get the volume. For that supply to grow we need more trees in the ground.”

Mr Costi said macadamias made up just 0.9 per cent of the total nut meat globally, so there was plenty of room to expand.

“It’s virtually 1 per cent of the market, with almonds, pistachios and other nuts our competitors. Those industries have grown quicker, so as an industry we are very young and we have an extremely bright future on the horizon.”

Mr Costi said established growers would be the ones to expand and increase supply.

Mr Costi himself is cultivating 250,000 seedlings in his nursery and is looking to establish a new farm in Rockhampton.

“Maryborough/Gympie is another area; we’ve got a large holding at Bauple that we are looking to expand.”

“The biggest problem is the cost of entry is prohibitive, unless you’ve got another business to fund it for the first eight years, entry to the industry is very difficult. Mainly the large growers are the ones really expanding the industry.” 

Source:  Queensland Country Life 2019-01

Wool, lamb markets to remain strong in 2019

The sheep industry was the shining light of Australian agriculture in 2018, with the wool market reaching record levels for all types.

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Woolgrowers achieved good returns despite a tough season across most of the state, with the market reaching an all-time high of 2116c/kg in mid-August, but has since had a correction to more stable levels.

In the final week of auctions for 2018, demand was strong for all Merino wools, and crossbreds had improved following a bumpy few weeks, which included a 130 cent a kilogram drop in the previous week.

The Australian Wool Exchange Eastern Market Indicator (AWEX-EMI) closed for the year at 1862c/kg, up by 13c/kg from the previous week. In US terms, the EMI finished the year at US1345c/kg.

This week’s Melbourne and Fremantle auctions had a strong opening, the market rising between 20c/kg and 40c/kg for all types, with 18.5-micron and broader wools most affected due to limited supply.

New England Wool managing director Andrew Blanch said the New Year demand was currency driven, with the most demand for 17.5-micron to 20-micron wools.

“We’ve for a lot of lower yielding and tender wools coming through, and the wools are a bit finer than last year,” Mr Blanch said.

“The superfine types have come back a little bit because there’s a more around due to the drought.”

Mr Blanch said sound, stylish wools from traditional growing areas such as the New England had held up well, and the market should remain high for good quality wools.

“We’re going to come into a period where wool is drought affected but anything good will be well sought after.

“The next 12 months is going to be a time where prices remain relatively high, but will be a bit more volatile due to the world economic situation and supply and demand is unknown at the moment.”

Mr Blanch said woolgrowers should look to maintain, or even improve flock quality through genetics, this ram selling season.

“Try to maintain genetics, because when season improves you’ve got a good basis to build your flock on.”

The lamb market also had a strong year, with heavy crossbred lambs smashing saleyards records through June, July, and August, to reach a high of $301.20 for an extra heavy pen of lambs at Wagga Wagga at the start of August.

In the year to November 2018, the NSW trade lamb indicator averaged 682c/kg, up by 56c/kg, or nine per cent, on the previous year, and the national trade lamb indicator finished at 670c/kg on December 21.

Source: The Land 2019-01-11

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

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