Frost risk to southern crops is up as El Nino bears down

Author: Sharon Watt | Date: 20 Jul 2015

Grain growers throughout the southern cropping region are advised to expect a heightened risk of frost this season due to the developing El Niño climate event.

Although maximum temperatures are generally warmer than average during El Niño years, decreased cloud cover often leads to cooler than average night-time temperatures during winter and spring, particularly across eastern Australia.

According to the Bureau of Meteorology, regions of southern New South Wales and northern Victoria, for example, can experience 15 to 30 per cent more frost days during El Niño than the historical average.

Dr Peter Hayman, Principal Scientist in Climate Applications with the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI), the research arm of Primary Industries and Regions SA (PIRSA), says reduced soil moisture and clear nights – conditions typically associated with El Niño events – are conducive to frost.

Dr Hayman, who is involved in frost research projects being funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) through its National Frost Initiative, said while the risk of frost was expected to be increased this year, the exact timing and frequency of frost events could not be predicted.

“Frosts are high-consequence, low-frequency events, which means they are difficult to predict and manage, and finding information can be hard,” Dr Hayman said.

With winter crops already in the ground, he said frost damage to crops could not be prevented but growers could reduce their losses through early identification of damage and implementation of strategies to salvage frosted crops.

Dr Hayman encouraged growers and their advisers to seek information to support their management decisions from the GRDC which has produced numerous resources to assist growers in dealing with frost.

The GRDC is continuing its long-term commitment to funding frost-related research, with its recently launched five year National Frost Initiative focused on identifying and delivering practical genetic, management and environmental solutions to assist growers to manage the impact of frost.

The three-pronged initiative will address: genetics – aiming to develop more frost-tolerant varieties; management – investigating if there are preventive products, stubble and nutrition management practices or other measures that growers could implement to reduce the impact of frost; and environmental prediction – focusing on predicting the impact of frost events on crop yields and mapping frost events at the farm scale to enable better risk management.

One of the GRDC-funded environmental prediction projects involving Dr Hayman and being led by Dr James Risbey from CSIRO will investigate forecast and management options for mitigating extreme temperature impacts on grains.

This project will assess the skill of the Predictive Ocean Atmosphere Model for Australia (POAMA) to forecast a shift in the likelihood of spring frost and heat events in the southern and western GRDC regions.

This assessment will involve comparing past POAMA forecasts with the historical record and improving understanding of how the frequency of these events changes with large scale drivers of atmosphere and ocean circulation.

“We will work with farmers, their advisers and extension providers to incorporate forecasts of the likelihood of frost and heat events into their risk management,” Dr Hayman said.

In the meantime, more information on frost and its impact on crops can be found via:

Updated information on El Niño can be found via the Bureau of Meteorology’s website.

For Interviews

Peter Hayman, SARDI
08 8303 9729 / 0401 996448


Sharon Watt, Porter Novelli
0409 675100

Caption: Pictured speaking at a GRDC grains research Update during a panel discussion on frost is Dr Peter Hayman, SARDI Principal Scientist in Climate Applications, who says the risk of frost in the southern cropping region is expected to be increased this year due to the developing El Niño climate event.

Region South, North