THE CLIMATE KELPIE BLOG: The Fast Break climate newsletter reaches new audiences

Posted by BCG on 19th November 2018

Victoria’s successful Fast Break newsletter team is now bringing tailored climate forecasting to grain growers in South Australia and Tasmania, in addition to Victoria. The newsletters, which are produced monthly throughout the growing season, provide growers with the information they need to understand seasonal climate forecasts and their potential impact on farm business profitability.

The Agriculture Victoria team are also producing an in-depth webinar for each state at the start of each season as well as The Very Fast Break, a technically rich but light-hearted video wrap of the newsletters for SA and Victoria.

The expansion is part of a new investment by the Grains Research and Development Council (GRDC) to help growers and advisors better understand the climate drivers and how they impact on agricultural production in the southern region.

“Growers have no control over the weather, but at least if they understand the inherent risk in the climate forecast they are in a better position to decide how to deal with that risk”, says Darren Arney, GRDC Grower Relations Manager (South). “We want to give growers better information on the subtleties of how these climate drivers impact on their local region.”

On a broad scale the climate drivers for South-eastern Australia are the same, however the seasonal conditions and the various model forecasts outlooks can vary between states,” says Agriculture Victoria seasonal risk agronomist, Dale Grey.

Figure 1. The team behind the Fast Break newsletter, Graeme Anderson and Dale Grey, ham it up for The Very Fast Break videos.

“With the expansion of the Fast Break we can now tailor our messages based on what the model forecasts tell us about each state, so these will be more useful for farmers.

“For instance, while many areas of South-eastern Australia had a drier than average 2018, Tasmania, southwest Victoria, the South East of SA, King Island and the lower Eyre Peninsula (EP) enjoyed some good winter rains, due mainly to the favourable Southern Annular Mode (SAM), which has a stronger influence on winter rain in the southern areas.”

“In May 2018 models were suggesting a possible El Niño event, but it did not eventuate in the 2018 growing season and was not to blame for the drier winter conditions north of the divide,” says Mr Grey.

“Positive Indian Ocean Dipole (+IOD) like conditions were the main feature to blame for drier conditions since June 2018. Whilst predicted by many models throughout the season a proper +IOD didn’t really kick in until October. Despite these two indicators of dry weather not being triggered we still had a dry season across most of the northern areas. The Fast Break scan of 12 global seasonal forecast models in July, strongly trended towards drier for Aug-Oct. Predictions made in August and September also hinted towards a drier spring.”

Understanding what climate outlooks mean on the ground is not easy,” says Agriculture Victoria project manager, Graeme Anderson. “A neutral outlook does not guarantee average conditions; all options are still on the table. Historically, in neutral years around one third of them were average rainfall, one third were dry and one third were wet.

“This is why people really appreciate our interpretation of the climate models. Our subscriber surveys have shown that 94 per cent of farmers say that the service has improved their ability to understand seasonal variability and risk and 90 per cent said provides them with information they can’t find elsewhere.”

“There is often an extension gap between the language of the climate scientists and model forecasts and what growers are seeking. A lot can get lost in the interpretation, especially around probabilities. Our aim is to improve climate literacy and help people to understand when and where to heed the noises coming from seasonal forecasts. Some years the outlook is unclear, but sometimes there are some really strong signals and that is when the information can make a big  difference to production risk.”

“Since we expanded the service in SA and Tasmania at the start of 2018, our subscriber numbers have increased from 3200 to 3950. It shows how much demand there is for this information.”

The project is also piloting a training program to support agronomists in useful ways to understand forecasts and when these climate signals can be used to assist on-farm decision making.

Figure 2. The Very Fast Break videos are now targeting both Victoria and South Australia.

Find out more about Dale and Graeme here.

Graeme Anderson, 03 52264821, graeme.anderson@ecodev.vic.gov.au