Drought by the numbers

By Country News

A new Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences update released last week has provided a perspective on the drought, including rainfall deficiencies and its effects on crop production, livestock markets and farm incomes across the nation.

The overview provided to the National Drought Summit reveals that in the cropping region of eastern Australia, rainfall was down by around 40 per cent from the 20-year average.

‘‘(Last week) we revised down our winter crop forecast for 2018-19 to 33.2million tonnes nationally, because of lower-than-expected rainfall in September,’’ ABARES executive director Steve Hatfield-Dodds said.

‘‘Crop production in the eastern Australian wheat-sheep zone in 2018-19 is forecast to be down by 53 per cent from the 20-year average from 1998-99 to 2017-18.

‘‘However, the physical impact of drought is being offset to some extent by favourable economic conditions and other circumstances.

‘‘These include higher livestock prices, improved farm productivity and growth in farm size.’’

Key points from ABARES:

■The current drought is severe in some regions but covers a smaller area than previous events.

■Rainfall to the end of September in NSW is the third lowest ever recorded at 190.9mm.

■Rainfall to date across Australia is as poor as any period in the past 20 years.

■Forty-nine per cent of agricultural land in south-eastern Australia is experiencing one-in-20-year drought conditions, compared with 81 per cent of agricultural land at the height of the 2002-03 drought.

■Winter crop production will be much lower in eastern Australia, and below average nationally.

■Livestock markets are operating within a historical range.

■On-farm stocks of feed and fodder were relatively high going into the drought.

■Climate effects are currently severe, but farm incomes are likely to be less affected than in previous droughts.

■While drought support plans are important, there is a risk some interventions could negatively impact on rural industry in the long-term.