Seasonal climate forecasting for farm decision making

By The Birchip Cropping Group

Climate variability plays a significant role in the profitability of broadacre farmers. This was again illustrated by the 2015 and 2016 seasonal conditions, where contrasting weather patterns influenced the growing season, production, and subsequent ‘bottom line’.

The increased awareness and understanding of climate drivers has assisted the agricultural industry to better allocate resources and plan for variable conditions. Growers are getting further interpretation of climate drivers’ current influence from experts all over Australia.

In the recent GRDC fact sheet “Using climate and weather data objectively” John Ferrier, a grower based 20km north of Birchip, Victoria explained that he looked at multiple tools in his decision making. This included the BoM seasonal outlook, newsletters, (Norway) and an information session by Agriculture Victoria seasonal risk agronomist Dale Grey. John also took into consideration weather station, soil testing, and soil moisture probe data.

BCG research manager, Claire Browne, inspecting barley disease in spring 2016, after what was the highest September rainfall on record for the Birchip district.

In 2015, an El Niño climate pattern was prominent and this resulted in the Ferrier family farm beginning harvest earlier than they had ever started before. John followed seasonal climate forecasting information and reassessed inputs in April due to low rainfall to date, combined with the low rainfall seasonal outlook. He switched from canola and lentils to higher cereal and fallow percentages to reduce farm business risk.

Using seasonal outlook information and reviewing projected tonnage, the Ferrier farm decided to reduce nitrogen application to target a 1t/ha crop and minimise herbicide applications, therefore reducing input costs. This enabled the Ferrier’s to mitigate the expected reduction in income and not place any further inputs than needed.

John said it’s “best to look at the collective trends of all models and which way they are swinging,” to get a better understanding of the season.

While seasonal climate forecasting information can provide insight, other information should also be considered to make a rounded decision.

Agricultural producers continue to recognise the importance of better understanding the climate drivers and the effect they have on rainfall and temperature in their districts.

In 2006, during the millennium drought, a Managing Climate Variability (MCV) project resulted in the inception of ‘The Fast Break’ newsletter in which 11 dynamic, ensemble, and statistical climate models are interpreted for a Victorian climate outlook. The newsletter is produced by Agriculture Victoria and has been a popular resource throughout the agricultural community ever since.

More information about seasonal climate forecasting and resources produced in this area visit:

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