Summer 2014 Volume 5 Issue4
Edition: Volume 5 Issue 4 December 2014
Editor: Zita Ritchie, Dairy Extension Officer-Climate Risk, DEPI Warrnambool
With summer now in front of us and the new year fast approaching, it brings us to reflect on spring conditions for 2014, which have been largely average to drier across the state. The south west in particular received well below the average rainfall for spring with many securing bought in hay to feed over the summer months. In the north, conditions have been drier which has meant farmers have started irrigating earlier, but rain fed Gippsland areas have been generally average. The model consensus for summer is favouring average to slightly drier and warmer than average temperatures.
Dairy State Round up – Spring (September - November) 2014
|Region||Spring Rainfall Deciles (Sept-November)|
Northern - Irrigation
After a dry August, spring rainfall was patchy and ranged between average to below average. Temperatures varied with some brief hot periods during late October and November. Reduced inflows of water into the main irrigation storages saw the temporary water allocation price continue to increase from around $100/ML in September to over $120/ML throughout November. Irrigated crop and pasture yields of silage and hay were good, but dryland yields were varied across the region, with most yields below average. Drier conditions across Victoria has caused higher demand for bought in feed, putting upward pressure on prices.
Spring rainfall has been on the lower side this spring, however soil moisture from winter and rain falling in September and early October has given reasonable pasture growth and decent silage yields across the district. Although summer conditions appeared to have arrived early, several good rainfall events in late November sparked some extra growth, mainly on the flats. It has been a challenging season but rewarding for those with good pasture management.
Coastal East Gippsland
A good start to the spring continued in both the Orbost and Bairnsdale regions. Adequate temperatures and rainfall events throughout resulted in a lot of fodder being conserved. Late silage and early hay is currently being made, despite the difficultly of getting hay dry with intermittent rain events. Due to large fodder reserves and favourable soil moisture currently, the need for bought in feed over summer is likely to be minimal. However may change if predicted drier conditions prevail over the rest of summer.
South West Victoria
Since August, the season in the South West has been much drier than average which has resulted in variable silage and hay yields. Silage yields have been inconsistent across the region - with some areas having similar or better yields to last year with other areas yielding half that of last year. Although yeilds are generally down, silage quality has been reported up on last year. Hay yields across the region have been below average due to the lower than average rainfall during the spring. Fodder crops have been sown across the region with variable germination results and some crops are already showing the effects of moisture stress.
|Macalister Irrigation District (MID)
It has been a good spring in the MID with one farmer describing it as, "highly conducive to record fodder reserves". Particularly for those who irrigated regularly in combination with effective pasture management. Despite achievement of high fodder reserves, some have struggled with feed quality issues. Spring conditions started out similar to last year with Lake Glenmaggie spilling early. Current allocation sits at 100 per cent High Reliability Water Share. Despite average rainfall during spring, below average inflows meant that the most recent spill entitlement ended on 23 October. Without another spill event, farmers are hoping for high inflows so low reliability water share will be allocated early on. If not, water may be a major limiting factor as the summer continues and extra bought in feed maybe required.
|East Sale: 6|
South & West Gippsland
Spring has been favourable with lower than normal soil moisture and good breaks of fine weather between handy rainfall events allowing for many silage making opportunities. It is anticipated that silage quality will be higher this year as a result. There are mixed reports about silage yields but the feeling is that, on many farms, yields could be up overall due to good pasture growth enabling a November harvest in addition to the October harvest. There is generally less soil moisture coming out of spring which may see pasture growth slow in December if there is a patch of hotter weather.
Seasonal climate outlook
Many climate indicators remain close to El Niño thresholds, with climate model outlooks suggesting further intensification of conditions remains likely. Whether or not an El Niño fully develops, a number of El Niño-like impacts have already emerged through warming of tropical Pacific Ocean temperatures and the drop in the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI). Regardless of whether an El Niño is declared, El Niño-like effects are likely, as shown by the Bureau's December–February Climate Outlook, which shows a drier and warmer summer is likely for many parts of Australia.
Model Summary for 30 November 2014
This seasonal climate outlook below has been put together with assistance from Dale Grey, editor of our seasonal climate risk e-newsletter, The Fast Break.
For summer, average rainfall/slightly drier and slightly warmer temperatures are the most common outcomes predicted by the models.
Current outlook (30 November)
Previous outlook (29 October)
1-3 month outlook
4-6 month outlook
1-3 month outlook
4-6 month outlook
Warm (El Niño)/slightly warm
Warm (El Niño)/ slightly warm
Slightly warm/ warm (El Niño)
Warm (El Niño)/ slightly warm
Modelled Climate and Ocean Predictions for December - February
A closer look at what models are predicting for Victoria in the next 6 months, focusing on Indian and Pacific Oceans, rainfall and temperature.
Southern Oscillation Index (SOI)
The SOI (the air pressure difference between Tahiti and Darwin) spent most of November in significantly negative territory below the -8.0 threshold.Currently the SOI is at -4.1 (11 December). This is indicative of normal pressure patterns along the Equator with the El Niño negativity of recent months unable to be sustained.
Sea Surface Temperatures (SST)
Sea surface temperatures (SST) have warmed further and greatest in the central Pacific during November. The whole Equatorial Pacific is now significantly warmer than normal. Both eastern and central areas are now close or above the El Niño threshold of +0.8oC, (11 December NINO 3 +0.76oC, NINO3.4 +0.86oC). Moisture sources are normal/warmer in the Coral Sea but have rewarmed out in the Timor Sea.
Southern Annular Mode (SAM)
The Southern Annular Mode spent most of the month weakly negative or normal but has recently gone strongly positive. Models predict the SAM to remain moderately positive over the coming two weeks. A positive SAM over summer can increase eastern Victorian rainfall.
Subtropical Ridge (STR)
The Sub Tropical Ridge of high pressure was positioned at a close to normal latitude but its longitude now has the pressure sitting out over the Tasman Sea directing both warm northerly winds and moisture troughs to Victoria. The STR has its most predictable influence over winter rainfall.
Making use of Climate Outlooks
By Catherine Ganter, Bureau of Meteorology from the Bureau of Meteorology
Climate outlooks issued by the Bureau of Meteorology provide useful information for up to three months ahead. But sometimes it can be tricky to decide exactly what the outlook means. A particular issue is that climate outlooks are presented in terms of chance (or likelihood), of wet or dry, hot or cold.
Understanding the outlook chances
Climate outlooks are not weather forecasts. Rather than say it will be warm and dry, climate outlooks say it is likely to be warm and dry. In statistical speak, the outlooks are 'probabilistic' rather than 'deterministic'—which basically means they look at the odds, or chance, of an event occurring rather than trying to predict the event.
The climate outlook maps show the chance (as a percentage) of getting more than your median or 'average' rainfall for the three months ahead (figure 1). The outlook can't give you a yes or no answer about wet or dry but gives you the likelihood of conditions occurring. For example, an 80 per cent chance of wet certainly favours wetter than average conditions, but it also means there is a 20 per cent chance of it being drier than average. The odds pretty strongly favour the wetter outcome, but it falls well short of definite.
Given an 80 per cent chance of favourable rainfall and temperatures, a farmer has a number of choices. If the soils are damp and the bank balance is fine, they may hedge towards applying more nitrogen and possibly plant more summer crop. But if things have been dry, the price of diesel is heading up, the kitchen needs a reno, and the bank manager is getting grumpy, then the 20 per cent risk of dry may mean they stick to a more conservative cropping routine this season to reduce the risks.
Another scenario is understanding what a 50 per cent likelihood means. For example, the summer 2014–15 rainfall outlook shows close to a 50 per cent chance of receiving more rainfall than normal over much of Victoria. For a place such as Ballarat, the median rainfall is approximately 134 mm for summer. This outlook means there is roughly a 5 in 10 chance that it will receive more than this total, and likewise a 5 in 10 chance that it will receive less. The 50 per cent chance usually means there are no major climate drivers influencing the outlook in this area towards a wetter or drier period and that the seasonal risk is close to the long-term average. It does not necessarily mean the model has no accuracy and should be ignored.
Different people will have a different idea of what probability is significant for them to make a farming decision. From the Bureau's perspective, we consider a greater than 60 per cent chance of above average rainfall a notable shift towards a wetter season being more likely. Similarly, a less than 40 per cent chance is a notable shift towards a drier season being more likely. The 40 to 60 per cent range we consider to be too close to the 50-50 chance to suggest that things are as likely to tip one way as they are the other. Hence, on the Bureau's maps, the 40 to 60 per cent region is white or grey.
Accuracy (also known as skill)
Model accuracy maps are provided for each forecast period. These maps indicate how well the model has performed in the past (see figure 2 below ). Green shaded areas perform better than climatology (i.e. better than a flip of the coin), which is our base level for accuracy. Often these higher skill areas are associated with large-scale climate drivers, such as the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) or the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD). These large-scale drivers have a close relationship with wetter or drier seasons across different parts of Australia at different times of the year and so add skill to the forecasts.
If we take the summer 2014–15 rainfall outlook as an example, what is the accuracy like for this period? The rainfall outlook skill for summer is moderate over far eastern Victoria, grading to low skill over western Victoria.
The important thing to remember about climate outlooks is not to use them in isolation. Look at the Bureau's ENSO Wrap-Up to see how confident climatologists are that the climate system is moving one way or another. Consider the accuracy to see how the model normally performs at that time of year. And assess your other risks to judge how much to hedge towards the conditions that are favoured in the outlook. Most of all, remember that climate outlooks are not weather forecasts, but rather inputs to assessing risks that can give you the edge over time by milking the climate for its tendencies.
See www.bom.gov.au/climate/outlooks for more details on the summer outlook, and explore our new one-monthly outlooks.
Watch Climate Outlooks: Stacking the odds in your favour and learn to interpret climate outlook information to assist decision-making.
Subscribe to Bureau climate information.
by Maria Rose, Dairy Development Officer, DEPI Maffra
At a recent Agribusiness forum in Gippsland, I was extremely fortunate to meet with the 2014 Australian Dairy Farmer of the Year, Greg Dennis. This gave me an incredible opportunity to look into what makes this Queensland dairy farmer, affectionately known as "Farmer Gregie" tick. As the key driver behind the farm's own "Scenic Rim 4Real Milk" brand, he shared with me his philosophy on taking appropriate risks to make a family-run business successful. This included how to deal with current and future challenges of climate change and risk management in the Australian dairy industry as well as personal health and well-being.
Find about more about Farmer Gregie and his family dairy business
Tell us a bit about you and your family dairy business in the Scenic Rim region of Beaudesert, Queensland.
I am a fourth generation dairy farmer of this family business, which has been involved in dairying since 1936 apart from a five-year gap in the years between 2003 & 2007. This break began four years after deregulation of the Australian dairy industry when milk prices hit rock bottom; 33 per cent below what Queenslanders were getting before the change. The family maintained ownership of the farm but ran beef cattle and developed a sideline hay business, neither of which I was interested in, so I established a mobile DJ music business instead. I had always hoped we would come back to dairying, which in early 2007 looked unlikely as we had sold the last of our milking cattle and the milk price was still very low, so I started working as a full time surveyor's assistant and formally up-skilling in drafting and surveying.
Fortunately, later that year, the combined effects of the drought and the subsequent milk shortage caused a huge jump in milk price that was predicted to stick around. Within six weeks of calling a family meeting and telling the others we needed to get back into dairying, I had purchased around 200 head of Holsteins and commenced reconstruction of our old herringbone dairy that December. Within three months of our first season (2007-2008) back fulltime, we milked 70 cows and although we were looking to peak at 140, we have grown further to now milking 240 cows.
Since your comeback to full time dairy farming what was the key challenge regarding climate that you faced?
Once the family returned back to fulltime milking, the drought had broken temporarily, but we were faced with longer term changing weather patterns of drier summers and there was a lot more pressure on future water supply to irrigation farmers within the Beaudesert region. Priority for water was in favour of the neighbouring towns and communities over irrigation farming land and particularly in my case, I felt that for our family business based on irrigation practices there was a very real risk of losing the farm again after only two years back. It was around this time (January 2010), that I was formally diagnosed with clinical depression.
What is your overall philosophy for improved resilience to climate change and risk management on your farm?
As part of my recovery from clinical depression, I started to analyse the possibility of installing an automatic milking system (AMS) to alleviate labour issues in the short term as I and more particularly my dad, were struggling with the extreme number of hours demanded, precipitated from the problem of attracting staff to work long and odd hours. Integrated with this line of thinking, my longer-term sustainability view for an AMS was to improve natural resource management and reducing production costs particularly those linked to energy usage. Shortly after my health diagnosis in 2010 we installed three milking robots, with a fourth one added in 2011 to cope with a maximum milking herd size of around 250 cows.
Although automatic milking systems require about 20 per cent more power than conventional' ones and a very high quality of cleaning water, my plans have focussed on developing capital works infrastructure and management practices to reduce the farm's energy and water usage (including irrigation requirements). We did this by installing a large water storage tank of 370,000 litres close by when the AMS was first installed to harvest rainfall which supplies all the cleaning water to the dairy.
Given that our robotic dairy has steady power usage, we are planning to install solar power (in January 2015) which is expected to both reduce our power bill significantly (perhaps as high as 50 per cent) and avoid high additional energy demand charges that have recently been implemented in Queensland. I believe that as energy prices continue to rise, solar technology will become more important on a large scale in the future. Additionally, it is important when planning to reduce energy consumption and usage costs to know everything about your power use; the Dairy Australia website is a great place to start (go to http://frds.dairyaustralia.com.au/events/watts-in-the-dairy-shed).
Our irrigation labour-hours are about as silly as they were for milking before we installed the robotic dairy and furthermore, my dad now 71 years old, is chief irrigator. Currently we use large travelling irrigators, have done since the 1970's. We will be moving towards pivot irrigation in the very near future as their energy consumption is up to 50 per cent less due to low pressure technology and the cost of energy will be further reduced through our plans to produce more of our own solar power.
I think generally today farmers are very conscious of sustainability and leaving a positive impact on the environment. I don't think it's just me; it's different to what is was 40 or 50 years ago. Back then, there was little thought process given to our impact and the technology was less advanced in comparison to what it is now- it wasn't their fault.
My philosophy for improved resilience to climate change and risk management as outlined above, has focused on my favourite saying; "We do what we know, but when we know better we do better!"
How does this philosophical approach to sustainability farming practices extend into your farm's own milk brand?
We actually do less processing to our milk, which means we use less energy in the production of it. We do not homogenise any of our milk. From a business point of view, we have improved cost efficiencies through minimal processes, which have almost halved our energy consumption. From an assured marketing angle, we offer a product that has more benefit to people's health.
Interestingly, the final decision not to homogenise our milk, which resulted in greatly reduced energy usage was solely customer/market-research driven. When we first launched the Scenic Rim 4 Real Milk label in June 2013, we thought that potential consumers might not accept the cream on top of the milk. The beauty of the promotion work with Farmer Gregie and farm tours and media coverage was that 83 per cent of the milk order on the first week in June 2013 was for un- homogenised (cream on top like in the days when it was delivered to your door step). From May 2014, we turned the Homogeniser off, so now 100 per cent of our milk is pasteurised only. The bulk of our factory's energy use is during peak times, but we can maximise the return on the investment in a 32kW solar system that we'll install in January 2015. The philosophy behind what we are doing with our product is very simple - to return a bigger per cent of profits of the milk sold to the dairy farmer. Efficiencies at farm level are mostly focused on survival rather than profitability and we aim to lead the charge in reversing that. With our 4Real Milk brand we are focusing on going back to a "real" product through less damage and processing resulting in less non-renewable natural resources being used.
Based on your 4Real Milk journey, what are your key tips for Victorian dairy farmers for resilience into the future?
My three key focus points of resilience regarding sustainable farming that is robust enough to deal with what climate change challenges and economic ones lurking in the future are simply;
· Returning farmers to profitability. If you are not able to run a profitable business - you are already gone;
· Reducing energy consumption and increasing conversion to renewable energy, and
· Focusing on water security from the irrigation and feed supply angle.
Managing the season ahead - Summer 2014
Greg O'Brien, Dairy Extension Officer, DEPI
Based on the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) three month outlook, planning for a hotter and drier than average summer would appear to be a good strategy, particularly post-December. Key considerations on the farm over this period will involve managing heat stress and balancing summer feeds to the herd over the summer period.
Managing heat stress will be very important. Dissipating excess heat can increase cow maintenance energy requirements by 20-30 per cent which is equivalent to four litres of milk. Added to this, feed intake can drop by 10-20 per cent, which can cause a significant drop in milk production.
Many things can help to reduce heat stress, including:
- Providing shade to reduce exposure to radiant heat (trees or shade structures) works wonders. If there is limited shade from trees, plan to keep these paddocks for the worst days.
- Wetting the cows will allow the heat to be lost more quickly (eg sprinklers) especially when combined with air movement (eg the use of fans and plenty of space between cows).
- Keeping the water supply up to the extra demand as cows will need plenty of water to dissipate heat through panting and sweating.
- Milking cows in the cooler part of the day.
- Change the pattern of feed supply on hot days, as cows tend to eat less in the day and more at night.
The dairy industry has access to excellent resources for preparing and managing heat stress. Check out the Dairy Australia Cool Cows web page
Supplement feeding is a key driver of profit over the summer months. A general principle is to provide a balanced diet, selecting feeds that can provide the right nutrients at least cost. The cheapest feed is not necessarily the most profitable feed.
During the growing season protein is normally well supplied in pasture but protein could be lacking in a summer diet that contains limited pasture or green crop. Extra protein can be supplied through a range of feeds including legume hay, high quality silage and/or canola meal in the cow diet.
Fibre in the summer diet is often higher than desired for high feed intakes. Concentrates (pellets or grains) are typically fed to reduce the overall fibre level in the diet and increase intake and energy levels in the diet.
In terms of how much to feed, the general economic principle is to feed when the income from the extra milk produced covers the cost of supplying the kilogram of feed. For example, if the cost of the extra feed is 30 cents per kilogram and milk is worth 40 cents per litre, you would need to get 0.75 extra litres of milk (30 divided by 40) to justify the cost of the extra kilogram of feed. A moderately fed cow in early or mid-lactation would be expected to provide this level of milk response or more.
If you are not able to feed to meet herd requirements at some point in the remainder of the summer season, it is worth considering reducing the feed demand by drying off or culling some cows early. Cows in late lactation that will not be retained in the milking herd are the prime ones to cull. Low producing cows that will be retained are the ones to consider for an early dry off. These strategies will assist to free up feed available for the remainder of the herd to maintain a profitable level of production.
The summer back page
News Flash – Special Climate Statements
The Bureau's Special Climate Statements provides a detailed summary of significant weather and climate events. They are produced on an occasional basis for events which are unusual in the context of the climatology of the affected region.
Key points from the latest special climate statement (3 December 2014) are :
- Spring 2014 was Australia's warmest on record
- Mean temperatures were 1.67 °C above the 1961–1990 average, the largest such departure from the long-term average since national records began in 1910
- Numerous records were approached or set. For example:
- Australia's warmest October day on record, 36.39 °C national mean maximum temperature on 25 October
- Australia's warmest maximum temperature anomaly on record for any season (+2.33 °C), surpassing +2.17 °C set in autumn 2005
For the latest go to http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/current/statements/
Climate outlooks - monthly and seasonal.
For Climate Outlooks on both rainfall and temperature (monthly and seasonal) Go to http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/outlooks
Outlook accuracy for summer rainfall is moderate to high over most of WA, northern and eastern Queensland, and eastern NSW; low over southeast WA, the Top End of the NT, western SA, and western NSW; and very low elsewhere. Caution should be exercised in these areas of low skill
- For more detail on rainfall, go specifically to http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/outlooks/#/rainfall/median
- For more detail on temperature go specifically to http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/outlooks/#/temperature/maximum/median
For the latest Very Fast Break seasonal update (Dec 2014) video on you tube that is very entertaining and informative.