Seasonal forecasts can help increase profits, reduce risks

Managing the risks surrounding climate variability is as much about making the most of the good seasons as minimising the impact of the bad. The use of seasonal forecasts can result in increased profits over time and reduced risks as measured by income variability. The view that farmers are punters dealing with only one set of information at one time is simplistic and outdated.

Farmers are the nation"s great integrators and the value of seasonal forecasts can be even better realised when they are combined with other important measures such as soil moisture. Research funded by the Managing Climate Variability Program, of which the GRDC is a major partner, has shown how important monitoring is in risk management.

The researchers featured in the story Cloud over forecasts (Groundcover, June 2004) appear to have attempted to assign an idea of value to a lucky dip sample of a few years of forecasts. Further comment on how the research adds to our knowledge and understanding of climate variability needs to wait for the research to be published and reviewed. Exceptional results need exceptional evidence.

In the meantime, it is useful to remember the underlying physical mechanisms of the Australian climate, and we should be grateful that the El Niño and La Niña events that cause big shifts in the odds of a wet or dry season only each happen about one year in four.

The Managing Climate Variability Program is working to blow away the cloud surrounding seasonal forecasts with four new projects in the grains industry. These projects are about making greater use of the well-recognised skill and value in seasonal forecasts that is already available, and further improving seasonal forecasts to make sure they hold even more value for grain growers.

(For more information go to www.managingclimate.gov.au where the latest Climag features an article on how the Birchip Cropping group are using seasonal climate forecasts in a new MCV project).

-- Dale Baker
Chair, Managing Climate Variability Program