Tough times not finished yet

By Country News

Farmers are facing more tough times over the next six months, with the drought set to intensify in South Australia, Victoria and inland NSW.

Bureau of Meteorology agriculture general manager Peter Stone said hot and dry conditions were likely to continue, with an 80 per cent chance of above average temperatures during summer.

As a result, a weak start is likely for Queensland’s dryland summer production for next year.

‘‘It has been unusually hot and dry in most of Australia this year and the year before and this is likely to continue for the next six months,’’ Mr Stone told the National Drought Summit in Canberra last week.

He said average temperatures would continue to rise, but rainfall figures were harder to forecast.

‘‘Drought is normal, as is water surplus in Australia, but it’s not predictable,’’ Mr Stone said.

National water storage is at about 58 per cent, down 12 per cent on this time last year, while in NSW levels are at 37 per cent.

Mr Stone said water storage levels were not expected to rise in the near future, with reduced supply and increased demand likely to see future falls.

‘‘This water isn’t only for irrigation, it’s for drinking water in our rural towns,’’ he said.

Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences executive director Steve Hatfield-Dodds told the summit the current drought was severe in some regions but covered a smaller area than previous events.

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

Dr Hatfield-Dodds warned of tensions between helping drought-affected farmers and promoting the best long-term industry performance.

‘‘Supporting drought-affected farms has the potential, depending on how it’s done, to slow the process of farm consolidation and the growth in farm scale,’’ he said.