LONG RANGE forecasts are not providing much joy for the bulk of farmers across the nation, with the spectre of an El Niño event looming large for many.
The official Bureau of Meteorology forecasts for autumn are for generally drier than average conditions, although it cautions skill is low in making predictions through autumn.
However, in Western Australia, the Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) has come out with a forecast predicting a different scenario.
The Statistical Seasonal Forecast (SSF) system used by DAFWA is predicting a wetter than average autumn through WA’s key cropping regions, following on from what has been a record wet summer in many places.
Meredith Guthrie, research officer with the climate team at DAFWA, said the weather patterns that led to record rainfall through the Kimberley over summer also translated into heavy summer rain through the wheat belt.
“Many southern parts of the state, such as the area around Ravensthorpe on the south coast, have had record rainfall this summer,” she said.
Dr Guthrie said DAFWA’s prediction this wetter pattern would continue was based on climate drivers in the Indian Ocean.
“We know this is a lot different to what the BOM seasonal outlook is saying, but the BOM system places a lot of emphasis on the El Niño / Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) readings, which are not always such an accurate predictor of weather here.”
“There are events in the tropical Indian Ocean which we think could result in a wet autumn in southern WA.”
The SSF highlighted the Madden-Julian Oscillation phenomenon as one potential driver of wetter than average conditions.
The good news for those in the saturated south of the State is that it is likely to be wettest inland.
The SSF is indicating a 60 to 100 per cent chance of exceeding median rainfall for the majority of the wheatbelt, a 40-60pc chance of exceeding median rainfall in some southern shires and Esperance and a 30-40pc likelihood of a wetter than average autumn for Manjimup and Denmark shires in the south-west.
In spite of the forecast, which is positive for grain yields, Grain Producers Australia (GPA) board member and Pingelly farmer Ray Marshall said there was an air of pessimism surrounding the grains industry at present.
“The low cereal prices mean people are not that confident going into the season,” he said.
“What is normally a good crop in terms of gross margins, like a 3.5 tonne to the hectare barley crop, is only just a break-even proposition due to the low grain prices.”
He said farmers were looking at planting more canola, where possible, and alternative enterprises, such as livestock.
“The moisture is good for confidence in planting canola, but there are only so many hectares it is suitable.
“The high sheep prices have people weighing up whether to increase their size in that side of the business, but that is a long-term move, you can’t build a flock up overnight.”
In terms of the likelihood of a wet autumn, Dr Guthrie said, similar to BOM forecasts, SSF skill was only moderate at this time of year, at around 50-70pc consistent.
The Bureau of Meteorology’s current seasonal outlook is for just a 25-40pc chance of much of WA’s cropping belt exceeding median autumn rain.
Although the weather patterns are starting to change, Dr Guthrie said there was still the chance the northern wheat belt could still receive moisture from the tail end of large tropical lows, as had happened in 1999 and 2015.