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Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Spring rainfall starts slowly

By Andrew Woods, ICS  |  Source: CSIRO Pastures from Space, BOM, AWEX, ICS

Key points

  • Despite the low rainfall of the past year, pasture growth rates from April through August were average when viewed across all wool production regions.
  • The low rainfall of September (and in recent months for many regions) seems to be catching up with pastures.
  • Victoria and Tasmania have the lowest rainfall rank for the past year of all the states, with NSW having the best rank.

2015-10-07 Rainfall Rank FIG 1

2015-10-07 Rainfall Rank FIG 2

2015-10-07 Rainfall Rank FIG 3

Seasonal conditions vary widely across the different regions in Australia. With spring upon us, rainfall becomes critical to this most important time of the year. This article takes a look at rainfall for the past year and in recent months across the different regions around Australia.

Figure 1 shows the rainfall rank by state for the past 12 months (to September) along with the change in the rank from the previous 12 month period (to September 2014). The rank is used as a way of comparing between regions of different rainfall amounts and timing. The rank simply shows how much time rainfall has been lower than in the period nominated.

NSW stands out as having the best rainfall rank for the past year by a long way, averaging a 47th percentile rank. Conditions start to deteriorate in the Riverina (which has a 31% ranking) and worsens through the southern regions, with South West Victoria the lowest with a 2% rank.

What makes this a really bad results is that the South Western Victorian 12 month rank at 2% has only fallen by 5%, which means the preceding year was awful as well. This shows up with the average Victorian rainfall rank of 15% and for Tasmania around 10%. In South Australia and Western Australia, seasonal conditions are mixed.

Figure 2 shows rainfall ranks for the past month (September) and the three months to September by region. September rainfall was low for all bar three regions in 2015. NSW has had a better result for the three months to September, with the other regions having very low to low rainfall for the past three months.

Rainfall is a quick proxy for pasture availability, which livestock systems rely upon. Figure 3 shows the average pasture growth by month for the past decade, weighted across the different wool producing regions. The original data comes from the Pastures from Space, CSIRO website.

The point of figure 3 is the importance of spring pasture growth. The current pasture growth (again a weighted average across all regions) to late September is also shown. Pasture growth from April through August in 2015 tracked average growth. In September, the dry conditions started to catch up with pasture growth falling well below average.

What does this mean?

Increased pasture growth rates in the spring require adequate soil moisture. Many regions have not had enough rainfall to allow average pasture growth rates to occur, as was seen in September. While NSW (except for the western parts of the Riverina) has had good rainfall in 2015, Victoria and Tasmania have not. The average rainfall rank across all regions is 30% for the year to September, unchanged on the preceding year. The varied conditions between regions will allow some trading of livestock, and will keep productions levels constrained in terms of clean fleece weights and fibre diameter for wool.

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