Agroclimatological Information Services In Australia

Bureau of Meteorology

The principal information base for describing the climate of Australia, its variability, and its long-term trends is provided by the Bureau of Meteorology (1997a) which has national responsibility for meteorological (including climate) monitoring. It operates the official national climate observing infrastructure and the National Climate Centre, the latter being the custodian of Australia's historical climate records.

Short-term weather and seasonal climate forecasts are made available through the media, including newspapers, radio, television, and the World Wide Web (Bureau of Meteorology, 1997b). The former include the daily and three- to five-day rainfall and temperature forecasts released every few hours, along with specialized forecasts concerning inclement weather that threatens horticultural and agricultural crops and the survival of livestock (especially shorn sheep and newborn lambs and calves). Frost risk forecasts provide information on overnight minimum air temperatures of -2°C or lower when it is expected over significant areas. This information is available in all the states from June to mid-August.

The National Climate Centre currently provides a wide range of climate-related services and products, including data, maps, predictions, and consultative services (Beard, 2000). The most important agriculture-related products are three-month seasonal outlooks of both total rainfall and seasonal average maximum and minimum temperatures, together with enhanced information on the Southern Oscillation Index and the likelihood of El Niño or La Niña events.

In addition to the general weather forecast and the products from the National Climate Centre, the Bureau of Meteorology also issues specialized weather forecasts (FARMWEATHER) for agriculture through its Special Services Units located at each state capital. FARMWEATHER is a detailed rural forecast available on demand. It combines a weather graphics page, a recent satellite picture, together with an expert opinion composed by meteorologists in plain English. The information describes the weather outlook to four days ahead for particular regions, allowing effective short-term management decisions to be made by farmers. FARMWEATHER is available via fax for more than 20 regions throughout mainland Australia.

State-Sponsored Agroclimatological Services

The extension and advisory services of the various state departments of agriculture and primary industries provide advice, backed up by ongoing scientific research, to assist producers manage their properties and farm businesses while exposed to a variable climate and various forms of risk.

NSW Agriculture provides climate services for producers throughout the state. Seasonal rainfall and weather outlook for the next three months is an important component of the Regional Review, a monthly update of seasonal conditions and outlook for agriculture in New South Wales. Farmers and other users can look at climate information on the department's external Web site in the Regional Review. Climate workshops are one of the most important climate information delivery channels of the NSW Agriculture Department.

NSW Agriculture also runs an irrigation and disease forecast service for the fruit growers in Northern Rivers region of the state. It provides quantitative data on evaporation, rainfall, and soil and air temperature for six stations in the region pertaining to the past week. Other information is on water used by the various fruit trees, with an advisory for irrigation. A section of the advisory is on fruit tree disease status, warnings, and advice on spray applications (NSW Agriculture, 1997). In southern NSW, the Riverwatch service is designed for updated information on the state of the Murrumbidgee, Tumut, and Murray Rivers pertaining to height, trend, temperature, salinity, and turbidity for the next four days (Bureau of Meteorology, 1997c).

The Queensland Centre for Climate Applications (QCCA) is a joint venture of the Department of Primary Industries (QDPI) and Department of Natural Resources and Minerals (QDNRM). It provides a range of climate services and tools to farmers (Balston, 2000; Bureau of Meteorology, 2001).

The "Long Paddock" is the QDPI/QDNRM climate Web site and contains information on rainfall, rainfall probabilities, sea-surface temperatures, Southern Oscillation Index, the seasonal climate outlook, and drought status. The SOI phone hotline consists of a two-minute recorded SOI message-containing information on the SOI, recent rainfall, SSTs, seasonal rainfall outlook, and ENSO status, updated weekly.

The Aussie GRASS project outputs are produced regularly for Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory. These include recent and current pasture production conditions relative to previous seasons. Seasonal climate outlook indicators include the average SOI, variations in sea-surface temperatures, forecast rainfall, pasture conditions, fire risk, and curing index, updated monthly. Most Aussie GRASS products are available on the Long Paddock Web site.

In addition to these services, conducting climate workshops for farmers is an important activity of the Queensland Department of Primary Industries.

The South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) has developed practical climatological information resources, services, and tools to assist land managers to understand and manage the effects of climate variability on their farming enterprises (Truscott and Egan, 2000). The tools and services SARDI provides or supports include climate risk management workshops for delivery across southern Australia, and climate risk management decision support trials incorporating the Climate Risk and Yield Information Service.

In Western Australia, climate services provided by Agriculture Western Australia (AGWA) have focused on the development of decision support tools that enable farmers to prepare and respond to climate variability. Modeling of agricultural production has progressed to the point at which farmers can use management tools to assist decision making, or utilize the delivery of timely information on crop development and yield potential (Tennant and Stephens, 2000). Decision support tools to respond to climate variability that have been developed in AGWA include TACT, MUDAS, PYCAL, NAVAIL, STIN, SPLAT, and FLOWERCAL. Most of the modeling developments have been used largely within western Australia, but some have been extended to other states.

The information service is a weekly "fax back" delivery system that provides information on stored soil water, the progress of the season, expected yields, and other information to participating farmers in western Australia. The STIN model is used to produce soil moisture (at seeding) and wheat yield forecasts for every wheat-growing shire in Western Australia. This is mapped on a monthly basis and supplied to ProFarmer which distributes their magazine to major grain trading, marketing, and transport agencies. Output can also be accessed from the AGWA web site.

Private Agroclimatological Services

Several private weather forecasting services provide advisories to farmers and some other sectors of economic activity (Anonymous, 1996; Lyon, 1997; Jones, 1997). These forecasting services use similar techniques as those of the Bureau of Meteorology to prepare the forecast information. There are also private agricultural, environmental, and natural resource management consultants who are skilled in advising on how to cope with short-term and seasonal variability in climate, production, and product prices. Many are registered with the Australian Association of Agricultural

Consultants (AAAC), a section of the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology.

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