The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has recently published an announcement that confirms the arrival of the La Niña weather cycle in Australia. This weather cycle is predicted to last from 2021 to the rest of 2022. Unfortunately, the continued growth in strength of the trade winds in the western Pacific has caused a delay in what was predicted as the weakening of the La Niña.

So, what does this mean for the crop growers and the Australian agricultural sector?

The Onset of the La Niña Weather Cycle

The Australian agricultural industry was hit with punishing drought for many years, affecting farmers from various parts of Australia. The announcement of a La Niña weather cycle by the Bureau of Meteorology was, therefore, met with rejoice and high hopes for the affected farmers hoping that it will bring them good rains. 

Brett Hosking, the chair of Grain Growers in northern Victoria, was “happy” about this prospect. Grain Growers is the national body that represents Australian grain farmers. 

Hosking agrees that while they are hopeful about the new weather cycle, he is well aware that it could bring a new set of problems for farmers. In November, the Bureau of Meteorology Twitter account issued a graphic that shows how Australia experienced its wettest and coldest November in 22 years. 

The Bureau has further stated that the weather cycle will bring increased daytime temperatures for the majority of Australia, as well as increased chances of tropical cyclones and higher rainfall volume. 

The Bureau adds that farmers around Australia might already foresee that an extreme weather pattern change is ahead of them. Prior to the announcement in November, grain growers and farmers have already dealt with unseasonably high rainfall and extreme weather events.

According to Hosking, “what we’ve seen in New South Wales is extreme rainfall events… falling very heavily and quickly, causing localised flooding, which… becomes major flooding.”

As early as October, The Bureau of Meteorology has shifted from La Niña “watch” mode to “alert” mode. 

How La Niña Impacts Australian Agriculture

Is La Niña welcoming or worrying? This is the first thing that comes to mind among farmers and crop growers across Australia who are expected to be greatly impacted by the high amount of rainfall. 

Obviously, the idea of more rainfall is less welcome in already waterlogged areas of Australia such as Queensland, the Northern Rivers region in NSW and others. There are also seasonal forecasts issued by the Bureau of Meteorology that suggest a 60% chance of rainfall above median in eastern Australia by the end of March.

For other areas such as NSW, South Australia and Queensland, the anticipated rain could have a significant impact on the predicted bumper harvest followed by favourable spring conditions. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) earlier stated that they forecast a national record of 58.4 million tonnes in winter crop production.

Unfortunately, ABARES later revealed that the “series of heavy rainfall events during November” would mean a delay in the harvest of the winter crops. The result of this would be a significant drop in grain quality among unharvested crops.

Hosking also adds to this saying that the impact of this weather phenomenon can be felt by farmers and grain growers in several ways. Some farmers might lose their entire crops while others who manage to harvest will see a decline in grain quality.

Hosking says: “Heavy rainfall will flatten crops. But that’s not the biggest concern… [when] we get humid weather following those rainfall events, those seeds will actually germinate in the heat, before we want them to.”

Early germination is a major issue because it can cause a drop in the weight of the grain. It can also lose some of its nutritional value. These two combine to cause the crop prices to drop. 

Needless to say, the impact of the weather cycle can be huge for the industry. Hosking estimates the loss to be up to the $1 billion mark. 

If these issues aren’t cause for concern enough already for Australian farmers, it’s that the naturally occurring weather patterns themselves are becoming more unpredictable. There has been a significant increase in major flooding events in the past few years. Farmers are dealing with longer drought years and more flood years. And these aren’t isolated weather cases anymore; they are extreme and widespread. 

As business needs and the climate of the industry itself changes, Australian farmers and business owners as a whole should speak to an insurance broker to ensure their coverage is adequate and not outdated. Midland Insurance brokers work through policies for their clients every day and are contacted here

Mitigating the Impact of Extreme Weather Cycles in Australian Agriculture

Extreme weather conditions are a double-edged sword that Australian farmers and agriculturalists have faced for decades. It’s either there is not enough rain, or too much of it. 

So, what is being done in order to mitigate the impact of the La Niña weather cycle to the crops?

Taking Action

Grain Producers Australia, which is led by Barry Large, is taking the initiative to help grain producers in Australia. This initiative is thought to produce an estimated worth of $200 million contribution towards research, development, and projects that aim to help grain producers maintain profitability through fluctuating seasonal conditions and their underlying challenges. 

Their research projects have resulted in what is known as plant breeding in the hopes of creating new crop varieties that can withstand seasonal stress. Furthermore, farmers are working towards a system known as precision agriculture. Large refers to this as the method of knowing “how much fertiliser is needed for a particular crop in a particular season.”

Peter Holding of Farmers for Climate Action believes that taking drastic measures to reduce extreme weather systems such as reducing emissions or transitioning away from fossil fuels can address the root of the problem. Holding believes that climate change is the primary ingredient that has resulted in a “perfect storm” that has resulted in major loss of crops that devastated farmers’ livelihood in Australia.