El Nino catastrophe looms for end of 2018
THE State Government has been briefed by the Bureau of Meteorology about a possible devastating El Nino weather event which could be catastrophic for Queensland farmers who have already suffered five years of drought.
More than half of Queensland remains drought-declared with some shires in the west without rain since 2013.
Paroo Shire mayor Lindsay Godfrey has seen unimproved land values plummet 40 per cent as the worst drought in a century tightens its grip.
"This is now comparable to the Federation Drought in our region,'' Cr Godfrey said, referring to the heartbreaking drought which gripped Australia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
"We have lost around 35 per cent of our population over the last 20 years and that, as well as the recent loss in unimproved land value, is directly related to the drought.''
The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries says there are 23 shires and four part shires in drought, or 57 per cent of the state.
That's a vast improvement on the situation in 2017 when 88 per cent of the state was under drought.
But there are deep concerns within the Bureau of Meteorology and other climate research organisations that there is now a 50 per cent chance of an El Niño forming in the latter half of 2018.
"This is double the normal chance,'' a DAF spokesman said.
While not every El Niño results in serious drought, throughout inland and eastern Australia it is usually associated with below average rainfall especially during winter, spring and through to midsummer, the spokesman said.
"El Nino events are also associated with a later start to the summer monsoon, an increased risk of late frosts for the key wheat growing regions and above average daytime temperatures.
"If an El Nino develops there is an increased risk the dry conditions may continue into 2019.''
This long dry spell is deeply frustrating to Queensland primary producers who are witnessing a massive boom in agricultural commodity prices.
Many now have a chance to consolidate and pay down debt after the Millennium Drought which began in 2002 and lasted until 2009.
Grain and pulse crop prices as well as wool and beef are on an upward trajectory with wool prices alone more than doubling in the past decade.
Western Queensland graziers are also being given the opportunity to return to sheep because of flock protection afforded by the State Government-backed dog fence.
The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences reported last month that an increase in global growth and a decline in global crop supplies puts Australia in a sweet spot.
Farm production is predicted to increase by 1.5 per cent to $61 billion - about 11 per cent higher than the 10 year average of $55 billion.
But ABARES, as well as the State Government, is also looking at the downside risk caused by the prolonged dry spell which is crippling part of western Queensland and New South Wales.
"Every drought tends to be different in the region it impacts and its intensity,'' the DAF spokesman said.
"The current drought started in the north west of the state. However the greatest impact has been in the central and south west with rainfall deficiencies at or near record.''
Local Government Association of Queensland chief executive Greg Hallam, who travels extensively throughout the state, said the southern part of Queensland's central west and almost all of the far southwest were now crippled by low rainfall.
"A lot of these people are seeing strong commodity prices and are looking for an opportunity to get out of debt but the weather will not let them do that,'' Mr Hallam said.
"It is truly heart breaking for some - some of these places have not seen a drop of rain in the past five years.''
Candice Roberts, from Victoria Downs Station in the southeastern shire of Murweh, headquartered in Charleville, said the property had not received any meaningful rainfall since the Winter of 2016.
With about 5000 sheep and a further 800 cattle on agistment off the property, the Roberts have been handfeeding sheep since last July, and are desperate for rain.
"Our big hope is for Summer rain towards the end of the year, but if we don't get rain over the summer, things will get very difficult for us,'' Ms Roberts said.