Weather bureau launches agriculture decision support unit after farmers hit by surprise summer storms, floods

Talking about the weather is a farming obsession, and a new agriculture support team at the national forecaster is set to further feed that passion. 

An agriculture decision support unit has been set up within the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) to assist farming operations and planning.

Farmers say the national advisory team’s focus should be squarely on accuracy following criticism over the bureau’s summer forecast.

Climate insight for farmers

Meteorologist Jonathan How said the current team of two will work closely with agricultural scientists and advisors to support farmers.

“We’re a brand-new team at the bureau dedicated to working with the agriculture industry,” Dr How said.

“Whether that’s sowing and planting, whether it’s harvesting, we help to provide a bit of insight and knowledge into the climate outlook for growers.”

Two hands pull spinach leaves aside to show leaves damaged by hail and rain

Spinach damaged in December rain and hail storms.(ABC Rural: Fiona Broom)

Criticism has been levelled at the bureau for its El Niño summer forecast.

“We definitely understand that many growers would have been expecting a hot and dry summer,” Dr How said.

“And that, of course, is part of the challenge of some of this long-term forecasting.”

International outlook

The new team will also draw on international forecasts and models as part of its advice for farmers, Dr How said.

“Particularly as you’ve seen these large thunderstorm outbreaks across eastern parts of the country, we look beyond things like El Niño to other climate drivers … to tie everything together in terms of impacts for agricultural communities,” he said.

In eastern Victoria, communities were expecting hotter and drier than average summer conditions with an increased risk of bushfires.

What they got was heavy rain and flooding – a blessing for some farmers, but a source of misery for others.

A farmer in a blue shirt leans against the tray of a ute.

Livestock producer Chris Nixon says accurate weather predictions are critical for farmers.(Supplied: East Gippsland Catchment Management Authority)

Weather forecasts “from Finland” were providing farmers more accurate daily predictions than Australia’s bureau, according to cattle producer Chris Nixon.

“The issue we have is that the farmers I talk with have basically lost confidence in the ability of the bureau to be reasonably accurate in what they’re forecasting,” said the former Victorian Farmers Federation livestock group president.

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