Who's your weatherman?

Chairman of the Birchip Cropping Group, Ian McClelland

Heavy weather can make or break farmers. It's one of the great unknowns which can thwart even the best-laid plans.

Farmers in the Birchip Cropping Group (BCG), Victoria, hope to change all this. The group has contracted a long-range weather forecaster who, they believe, has developed a highly accurate, new forecasting model tailor-made for the south-eastern states. Presented in a format relevant to all Victorian regions, except for Gippsland, the forecasts will be available for a fee to any farmer who chooses to join the BCG.

Over the last two years meteorologist Ian Holton has provided the BCG with regular 10-day forecasts and seasonal forecasts updated monthly during the growing season. Over that time he has proved consistently accurate in both his 10-day forecasts and seasonal outlooks, according to BCG's chairman, Ian McClelland.

"Last year was the driest season on record in South Australia up to the end of July," Mr McClelland says. But Mr Holton was doing the rounds at the BCG's SA agricultural expo, supported by growers through the GRDC, saying: "Don't worry, it'll be a good year."

"As it happened, South Australia produced the biggest grain harvest ever," Mr McClelland said.

The coordinator for BCG, Caroline Peters, said that when tested on the past 20 years' independent data, the Holton models perform near or about the 99 per cent significance level, even when using a forecast made nine months prior to the forecast rainfall period.

In preparing his models, Mr Holton uses a wide range of climatic variables including the sea's surface temperature in the north-east Indian Ocean and upper level, long-wave troughs which move slowly above a normal front.

Besides seasonal outlooks, Mr Holton provides specific forecasts on frost events, maximum/minimum temper-atures and rain events. "He's not always right, but he is 70-85 per cent of the time," Mr McClelland says. "That's more than enough so a farmer can plan how and when to sow with some degree of confidence. In some years you'd wind everything back. In others, you'd really stoke it up."

As well as the weather forecasts, subscribers to the BCG service will receive a package of timely agronomic information on, for instance, changes to fertiliser and spraying requirements in response to recent or upcoming weather, and a manual which will help them record and interpret their own specific weather conditions.

Region National, North, South, West