THE CLIMATE KELPIE BLOG: Meet the expert – Jon Welsh, CottonInfo

Posted by BCG on 25th June 2018

What does your job involve?

I work on a project funded by Cotton Research to prepare and present material on climate risk management for cotton advisors and cotton farming businesses.

What climate drivers do cotton growers need to have an understanding of?

Cotton is predominantly grown in the mid-latitudes of the Murray Darling Basin. This region is the intersection of many combinations of remote and local climate drivers.

Each region has a different leading driver, however, the Southern Annular Mode (SAM) has a high impact in central growing areas and is somewhat complex to explain.

My aim is to explain the behavior characteristics of all the drivers e.g. Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), East Coast Low (ECL), Subtropical Ridge (STR) and SAM, and try and explain the research as to how they all interact through different seasons.

In my experience, once growers understand the detail and how complicated these systems are, then they have a much greater appreciation for the levels of uncertainty with seasonal forecasts.

What are the types of decisions do cotton growers make where they should be referring to seasonal climate forecasts?

Irrigators are interested in rainfall in the higher catchments which ultimately fill storages.

A dry seasonal outlook across the eastern seaboard tends to mean their water allocations will be limited in the future.

Dryland cotton producers look at the seasonal outlook in autumn for winter crop and spring for summer crop.

Unless soil moisture stores are full, they use this information to allocate resources and measure risk for planting decisions. 

What’s been the biggest change that you’ve seen in seasonal climate forecasting over your career?

Users are much more thorough with global season models now. In the past, many users of the forecast were under the impression that the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) consolidated all the global science into one model.

We have the ability now to table up global operational models on a multi-week or seasonal timescale and assess risk. This is a powerful way to extend information.

Where do you see seasonal climate forecasting heading in the future?

Models will become incrementally more accurate in a difficult environment where the climate seems to be continually changing and breaking new ground historically on a range of ocean and atmospheric observations.

The use of statistical models will probably become irrelevant on the current trajectory.

How can a farmer contact you and what questions can you help them answer?

My details are on the CottonInfo website http://cottoninfo.com.au/climate.

I can assist with historical context on remote and local drivers of climate, explain their influence and offer commentary on global model outputs.