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.
- A new BOM agriculture decision support unit has been set up to offer farmers better climate insights
- The team will draw on both national and international forecasts and models
- Farmers have said they’ve turned to international weather bodies as BOM’s accuracy is questioned
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
He said the bureau’s new agriculture decision support team needs to understand how farmers use climate and flood advice.
“Accuracy is the greatest support they can do,” he said.
“We don’t need a translator. We just need the information.
“Just give us the raw data. We can make our own decisions on what needs to happen from there.”
With the world heating to unprecedented levels in 2023, predicting the weather is becoming less predictable – but increasingly important – said Farmers for Climate Action chief executive Natalie Collard.
“Science tells us that climate change is supercharging our weather patterns, making them increasingly extreme and unpredictable, which presents obvious challenges for farmers,” Ms Collard said.
“Food producers are grappling with long-term changes as well as freakish one-off events like unseasonal hail, storms, and floods which can destroy crops and harm stock.
“All of this means accurate long and short-term forecasting is even more vital for the agricultural sector.”
Key stories of the day for Australian primary producers, delivered each weekday afternoon.