By CAITLIN CROWLEY
THE Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) is working to rebuild trust with Queensland farmers, expanding its agriculture team and improving communication strategies to ensure growers can accurately interpret forecasts.
That was the key message shared by the BOM’s agriculture segment lead Johnelle Stevens, who addressed delegates at the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) Regional Outlook Conference in Toowoomba yesterday.
“We need to be a bit more transparent and let our producers know when we got it right, but when we got it wrong and how we got it wrong,” Stevens said.
“Our big push is how we’re communicating that. When I talk to my dad, he says the Bureau gets it wrong 75% of the time.
“When I talk to meteorologists, they say – well your dad just didn’t know how to read it.”
Stevens told the Caller, her team was hired to bring change and was genuinely excited to receive feedback from farming communities about the way weather forecasts are delivered.
“We use it – we do actually change the way we put things out, change the way we communicate with people from the feedback that we’re getting,” she said.
“We’re all Australians, we all call a spade a spade so we want our information in a way that we can digest it easily.
“There’s a lot of information coming at people so the easier it is to understand and then be able to make decisions on that, the better it is for everyone.”
Stevens explained the BOM’s priorities and latest applications to improve forecasting for agriculture, including making those forecasts easily interpretable.
The Climate Services for Agriculture prototype is one new service providing farmers with the long term opportunities and risks of particular crops in specific growing regions, all the way out to 2050.
It can help producers understand the historical, seasonal and future climate at their location to help inform business decisions.
Stevens is encouraging anyone who wants clarification on weather forecasting for agriculture, to email her team via email@example.com.
“We want to give people what they want, and what’s useful information,” she said.
Access to accurate and rigorous weather data was also identified as critical for the sector as it pursued the ambitious goal of increasing agricultural production to $100 billion by 2030.
Kurt Hockey from ABARES provided an industry overview, cautioning that while an almost 30 percent increase in farm productivity since 1989 had offset the impacts of climate change, farmers could expect more volatile climate conditions in the years ahead.
“The relatively poor conditions of the last 20 years are more likely to be indicative of the future,” Hockey told the Caller.
“It’s likely that the recent drought patterns are not going to be exceptional, but rather, what we can expect more of.”
He said farmers would have to think about what it meant for their business, possible diversification and off-farm incomes.
“Thinking about how they structure their long-term financial interests to be able to have that resilience – for both taking advantage of the good times and also being resilient during the tough ones,” he said.
The conference also received a breakdown from the 2020-21 Agricultural Census released this week.
The gross value of Australian agriculture surged 17 percent to $71 billion in the 2020-21 financial year, with improved growing conditions driving broad acre cropping production up a whopping 79 percent, to $23 billion.
Queensland’s production growth was a more conservative 7 percent, hitting $14.5 billion, with $1.1 billion of that coming from the Toowoomba local government area.
Interestingly, eggs were the most valuable local commodity accounting for $292 million, followed by cattle and calves at $212 million.
Sorghum was the region’s most valuable crop at $111 million, followed by cotton, wheat and vegetables.
“Agriculture is doing really well and we are seeing really positive outcomes for 2022 – 23. We continue across the country to have really good seasonal conditions which are supporting production and world prices are high,” Kurt Hockey said.
“While profits are going up – and this region’s doing really well – we are seeing increased prices in chemicals, fertilisers, energy and they’re all impacting farmers adversely.”