Transcript of the using seasonal forecasts in south-eastern Australia webinar

Heather Field:

Our webinar today is on using seasonal forecasts in Southeastern Australia. In this webinar, we will hear about what has been achieved during the three years of using seasonal forecast information and tools project. We'll see the new forecast products, local climate tools, training workshops, and hear insights into how the project has been working with the grains industry to improve the way we can communicate and use seasonal climate forecast information in Southeastern Australia.

Heather Field:

We have a great line-up of speakers today. We have Graeme Anderson, Jemma Pearl, and Dale Grey, all from Agriculture Victoria. We'll have Randall Wilksch from the Grains Research Development Corporation and Mark Stanley from Regional Connections.

Heather Field:

I'm going to hand over first to Graeme Anderson, who's going to facilitate our presenters today. Most of you would be aware or heard of Graeme. He's been a speaker for us a number of times. Graeme is an experienced science communicator and extension leader within Victoria's agriculture sector. He leads a small team who deliver climate risk services, such as The Break, soil moisture monitoring, climate webinars, climate dog animations, customized presentations, all which assist farmers and advisors in making sense of emerging issues and how to adapt their local farm systems. He has 30 years' background in science and policy communication, practice change, and adoption, farm planning, catchment, salinity, and vegetation management, agriculture industry development, land use change, and climate carbon issues affecting agriculture. A lot there. Thanks, Graeme. I'll hand over to you.

Graeme Anderson:

Thanks, Heather. I'm glad I didn't have to read all that out. That was great. Thank you, and thanks for your work on the climate webinar series, Heather. Been doing a great job on those.

Graeme Anderson:

Welcome, everyone, today. Today is a good chance to run through a great, little project that's been happening on using seasonal forecasts. We'll be hearing from the different components of the projects. There's been a bunch of great collaborators teamed up across South Australia and Vic and Southern New South We'll get right into it.

Graeme Anderson:

First of all, to have a bit of an overview of the project, thought it's best to hear from GRDC. Randall Wilksch... I'll introduce Randall. Randall's originally from the Lower Eyre Peninsula in South Australia, where he's part of a family farm production business. After being fortunate enough to travel extensively, looking at global ag via the Nuffield Scholarship and a Syngenta Growth Awardee, joined the GRDC as a grower relationship manager for Southern Region. We're going to have a bit of an overview of what GRDC is doing is this climate and seasonal risk space and of the project and over to Randall. Then we'll gradually work through each chunk of the project and who's done what. Over to you, Randall.

Randall Wilksch:

Good day. Thanks, Graeme. Pretty flattering introduction.

Randall Wilksch:

Good morning and welcome to all of those who are here listening in to this Understanding Seasonal Forecasts webinar. We genuinely appreciate that you've taken time to log in from wherever you have, sitting on a harvester, in a keyline, or just sitting around the kitchen table. Thank you very much. It's really valuable that you use the chat button on the side and please provide feedback, because this does help GRDC's perspective to help further this investment and work out where our further investments are made in this area.

Randall Wilksch:

I view understanding seasonal forecasts as some of the foundational investment. It helps us with many decisions we make in agriculture. Potentially, nearly most of the decisions we make on a day to day basis can be traced back to how you've used seasonal forecasts and the confidence you have in those. Can we go to the next slide, please, Jemma?

Randall Wilksch:

Some of the investments that GRDC has in this space of seasonal forecasting. This one here, the AgScore project, is actually managed by a colleague of mine, Liam Ryan, who's the manager over transformational technologies. This project is primarily led by CSRO. That involves... It's a cross-RDC project. It involves several of the different RDCs around to compare the different skills of climate models and also evaluate the economic benefits of these models. Next slide, please, Jemma.

Randall Wilksch:

Part of this is the managing climate variability. I'm throwing this slide up here because you can see, down in the bottom, of all the various RDCs and the Australian Government and that very state organizations that are also involved in funding this. This is connect research to further develop seasonal extreme event predictions for rainfall, temperatures high and low, and frost. Also, it helps us with new multi-week forecast projects to agribusinesses and other producers. Next slide, please, Jemma.

Randall Wilksch:

Part of this is also the Climate Kelpie, which I'm sure you've seen in Australian ClimMate, to again help with forecasts. Some of you have got those apps on your phone or webinars as you're frequently looked at. Part of this is the project that I help look after, run by very excellent people here at Fast Break, which originally come out of Victoria, and then GRDC invested funds into it to move it into South Australia, Tasmania, and Southern New South Wales. The last slide, please, Jemma.

Randall Wilksch:

The Fast Break will be familiar to very many of you through the newsletters and The Very Fast Break, the videos which are always uploaded on YouTube. It's a truly fantastic project here. I've put in a little screenshot of South Australia, being that's a bit where I'm originally from. I personally really enjoy this, because it has such good ground truth in with the soil moisture probe, sorry, and then provides information which is highly valuable. If we could get some of the football sort of types that painfully make their way into it, it's full of actually really valuable information. If you're not already subscribing to that, I really do encourage you all as listeners to be subscribed to this.

Randall Wilksch:

Again, please provide feedback. GRDC values the feedback highly. I'll be very interested in particular if you can help me answer the question, how do we get from seasonal climate forecasting being interesting to highly valued? Thank you.

Graeme Anderson:

Thanks heaps, Randall. That's much appreciated. Great overview. We really appreciate the opportunity that GRDC's provided to help connect some of the great science and research that's happening in this space and in climate forecasting. I guess this is part of, how do we package it up and make it relevant for each part of Australia? This has been great collaboration for the GRDC South.

Graeme Anderson:

Next slide. Thanks, Jemma. I was going to run through... There's been a bunch of clever people collaborating on the project. I'll run through the team. On the left here, the Ag Vic team. There's myself. We've got Dale Grey. Dale's quite famous. You'll hear a bit more about Dale in the front man for The Break in the seasonal forecast with The Break newsletter. Jemma has been... Jemma Pearl. She's seasonal risk project officer with us in Ag Vic. She's been really critical helping set up, run the webinars, the web site material, and lots of social media and communications work. Jemma does a great job packaging all of that. Also, Dale Boyd. Dale Boyd runs our soil moisture probe network in Victoria, but also, one of the key bits for the forecast stuff that was initially discussed was, could we have some good commentary on just what's happening with soil moisture? Because that's a key bit, a memory of the soil of the season thus far and then talk about the forecast. Dale's done some great work in helping set up and working with... So we can get those maps that Dale Grey puts together in The Fast Break. That's the team from Ag Vic.

Graeme Anderson:

Of course, Peter Hayman from SARDI in South Australia. He's a principal scientist with the climate applications there. Peter's been very fantastic advice he bounces off whenever we do The Break Up Date. He's also been a key player in leading some of the agronomy workshops and training and decision stuff, which Mark will talk about a bit later. Mark, we'll introduce Mark a bit later, too. Mark Stanley from Port Lincoln in the Eyre Peninsula South Australia. Some fantastic work that's being done there, especially about working, how do we make sure we're understanding seasonal forecasts and getting agronomists together and looking at some of that decision tool. As a partner, we've had Barry Mudge, who's a farmer from South Australia but also a consultant and looking at, how do you use this forecasts for making decisions? That's been a fascinating part of the project. Also our friend at Federation Uni, so Peter Dahlhaus and Scott Limmer. They've been really terrific. They specialize in data and how do you put it in ways that actually makes it a bit more accessible. When it came to a lot of climate and historical records and helping us with the climate tool, they were the brains behind, how do we set that up? We'll run through some of these products, but I thought, introduce the team. It's all been terrific working with them. Thanks, Jemma.

Graeme Anderson:

The three key chunks of this project was... The first bit was extending The Break's seasonal forecast commentary that Victoria's been doing in Ag Vic for 12 years. Of course, there's been a lot of extension over the last few years in other states. There was a bit of interesting... Could we get that happening for South Australia, too? Thanks that Randall and GRDC coming on board, because they've said, "Okay, we'll extend that model for South Australia, Tasmania, and Southern New South Wales." Basically, Dale does a... He scans 12 global forecast models for the next three months and packages that up. He'll show you what he's done there, but being able to specifically customize that for the South Australia and Tazzy and Southern New South, that's the first time we've been able to do that, thanks to this project. We'll hear a bit more about that.

Graeme Anderson:

Another key part of the project was pulling together some seasonal forecasting resources and the case studies of how farms are using the information and also some tools there. We'll introduce that in the local climate tool, which was part about making sense of a historical climate and what's been behind our weather in dry years in the past. Understanding that has been a really key part to then understanding what the forecast might be. We'll show a little bit about that. Then there's been some terrific work that Peter Hayman and Barry and Mark have leg on on using seasonal forecasts in decision-making, which has been workshops with agronomists across the GRDC.

Graeme Anderson:

We'll go into each of those in a bit more detail, but thanks, everyone. I'll start off... I'll hand over to Dale to give a rundown of some of the insights of what he's been doing with The Break products. Over to you, Dale.

Dale Grey:

Thanks very much, Graeme. First, I'm going to briefly talk about the audience. Everything that we do here at The Break Team is a digital platform in terms of our products as well as a great range of actual physical talks that we do, some sort of 120 a year between Graeme, Dale Boyd, Jemma, and myself.

Dale Grey:

In terms of our digital audience, we started, as Graeme said, more than 12 or 13 years ago, just collecting e-mail addresses, really, with no names and data against them. This is just our audience here. Current got 4,247 on the list, of which 64% of that is Victorian. It's always been fairly strong in that regard. Since we started this project, and those start numbers are when we started this project, we've increased our South Australian audience. The most, I suppose, represent proportionally, a 257% increase there, up to 626 subscribers from SA. We've also increased our Taswegian number extensively as well. Our New South Wales number hasn't gone up anywhere near as much, about the same as our Victorian, but remembering our New South Wales number was reasonably large before we actually started.

Dale Grey:

In terms of the demographics of the people who are subscribed, 50% of them are farmers. The other 50% are other allied, agricultural people. We know something like a quarter of them are agribusinesses. 15% in government, much like myself. A significant proportion are other, which are a whole hip of other interested people, many of them still related to agriculture. Next one, please, Jemma.

Dale Grey:

The Fast Break, as Graeme alluded to, is our newsletter that describes where the current climate is and what the current seasonal climate outlook is. That large table of many, many models, outputs that we do. We really crunch some of the data... Wait up, Jemma. We've gone back a bit. Crunch all these models. Some of the biggest computers from around the world, we crunch their outputs into one A4 page, which is about getting the vibe of what the climate forecasts are from many models around the world, in terms of El Niños and La Niñas, what the Pacific Ocean's doing, what the Indian Ocean's doing, what the rainfall and the temperature forecasts are for the four regions that we do it for. We've always done it for Victoria.

Dale Grey:

With this new investment from GRDC, we're doing it for these three other locations. In terms of some data there, for the last year, we've got a 1,040 people reading The Fast Break for Victoria and 327 for South Australia, 37 for Tasmania, and 134 for Southern New South Wales. That's just a graph of the readership over the months. Still got one month to go, which will come out very soon. You can see that, at least in Victoria, it starts off quite well at the start of the year, peaks in July. We find that interest is the keenest, particularly when people are in pain, like when things have been dry and they're not quite sure what's going to happen, like it was this year. Interest peaks when people are making their decisions, particularly about nitrogen management. In South Australia, that started off a bit lower in January and certainly peaked in July as well. Next one please, Jemma.

Dale Grey:

Our YouTube videos. Graeme initially said that... We used to do these... We do lots of half and one-hour talks, webinars, explaining climate. He said, "Dale, do you reckon you can crunch this down to three or four minutes?" which I thought was a very scary thing to attempt. Four or five years ago, we attempted to do that. For the last three years, we've been also including South Australia in that YouTube click. There's YouTube's brief synopsis of where soil moisture and rainfall is in temperature around South Australia and Victoria, plus the model forecast synopsis, the vibe of what the models are saying. There's always a little gag at the end of that, which hopefully is a bit sticky and helps people to remember in an analogous way about what the climate's been up to.

Dale Grey:

In total, every time we put those videos out, we've averaged over 1,500 views each time. You can see that that goes up and down a bit, too. July was the peak for this year in Victoria, but August was the peak in South Australia this year. What's interesting about that is that we've only got like 650 South Australians on the book. More than half of our South Australian audience is actually watching this stuff. You'd be asking about... There's almost 3,500 or more Victorians. About a third of those are watching things. Interestingly enough, ever since we've started, Victorian's watch a higher percentage than the South Australians. I'm not quite sure what's going on there, whether that's a bandwidth issue or whether they're just cutting to the chase and getting rid of the boring bits on fast forward, and they're a more discerning audience, perhaps. Next one, please, Jemma.

Dale Grey:

Our team's been doing webinars... I think I did my first webinar maybe eight years ago. Webinar is not a new technology for our team. Been using it for a long time. In this last year, nothing different there for us. We've been providing as part of this project at least four webinars per year, tailored to each of those regions. The Southern New South Wales part of our project came on a couple of years after we started the other South Australian and Tasmanian state. They've been going a lot longer.

Dale Grey:

What we notice from our webinar... This seems to be a thing that's... Once upon a time, we wanted to see a lot of people at our webinars live. More and more, we're seeing way more of them post the event and looking at the recording. The recording is more valuable than the live event. We see, in terms of salary earners, they're three times more likely to be watching the webinar during the day, and I think a lot of them are probably listening here today, compared to farmers. When it's night time and farmers have got time to spend to themselves, 60% more farmers are watching the recording, compared to the salaried people. That's been a real change in terms of our thinking, that the recording is becoming much more valuable than the actual live event. Almost two and a half times people watch the recording compared to the live one.

Dale Grey:

In total, every time we've run an actual webinar, five of them this year, in fact, we've averaged 416 people have watched those events, whether they be both the recording or actually live. We get really good satisfaction data from those, as to how people like them and do them. I think the most recent one... I don't remember. I think it was something like 467 for our October. 467 people watched the actual recording, and about 75 people turned up on the day. It's a changing scope, in terms of the way we look at our webinars.

Dale Grey:

I think that's it for me. It's on to the next person, Graeme.

Graeme Anderson:

Very good, Dale. Thank you. Yeah, it's quite a bit of activity there. It's interesting to see when people tune into it throughout the year. Often, it changes depending on when the season's precariously poised. When it's raining, first interest, Dale, because they don’t.

Dale Grey:

It's nothing like the blowtorch to the backside to make people interested.

Graeme Anderson:

That's right. When they join, it's raining, but when it disappears or a drier month, there's a bit more wanting to know. Dale's outbreaks with The Fast Break and The Very Fast Break and the webinars. It's a whole overview of the current state of play with soil moisture, with what's happening with sea surface temperatures and cloud patterns and then, again, runs through about... Were there 12 global forecast models that you summarize? How many of them are sitting on the fence? When they all start to jump the fence into the dry paddock or the wetter paddock, then you're sharing that commentary. I think that's a key bit. It's also contexted for each state. Some good stuff there.

Graeme Anderson:

To see... I think Jemma, you've got a bit of information there on...? Because it was been a survey done. There's another survey about to be sent out to subscribers in the next few weeks, but we did have a survey from last year. You've got some info.

Jemma Pearl:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Graeme Anderson:

Over to you, Jemma.

Jemma Pearl:

Thanks, Graeme. Yeah, as Dale will happily admit and you probably all know, he's a bit of a data nerd. We do have quite a bit of data on the products, which is pretty cool. To many of you, you may actually know that The Break started in 2005, but we've been doing The Fast Break since 2007. Since then, we've been pretty consistent in surveying our subscribers and watching the list grow but also change over time. At least, it was very grains-dominant at the start and understandably so, given the regions that we were working in and the people we were working with at the time, to a group that's a lot more varied in industry. I guess the livestock enterprise is becoming even closer to our grains cohort. That's been really cool, watching it change and grow. It's interesting to see how the information is useful and is used on-farm.

Jemma Pearl:

Like I said, there's a few different ways that people are using this information. This is from the most recent data set of what people were saying, everything from year sowing timings and crop rotations, stock management, whether to increase or decrease, timing, like I said, even the purchase of hay or even the making of hay, a big one being the application of nitrogen or nutrients and, again, that timing and amount. A few business planning options there, but also and understandably, no decisions depending on the timing of the year or how people perceived the information. The interesting one that we always grapple with here is the sowing decisions information. We try and press that Autumn is not the time to be putting a whole lot of emphasis on the models, given their skill at the time of the year. It's interesting, every time, how many people come back with sowing decisions as a point. I guess we've still got more work to do in that space. We'll continue to do that.

Jemma Pearl:

We've got a bit more info here. We ask very similar questions from 2008 all the way to last year and then, again, early next year. Please, if you receive that or you see that link for the survey, we greatly appreciate your thoughts. This looks at the difference between the people who have been subscribing to The Break for a shorter amount of time and those who have been with us a bit longer. Thinking about how valuable this information is in that context. I know it's a bit of a full-on, little graph there, but we've probably... I'd love to talk to it a lot more, but we've probably going to be running out of time, and I'm going to get the hurry up at some stage.

Graeme Anderson:

The main bit there, The Break products... The top one is there's The Break products improved... We asked farmers, has it improved their ability to make decisions to manage seasonal risk? There's strongly agree or agree. Good to see that that's over 90%. It's perhaps a bit stronger for those that have been on The Break journey longer, because we learn all this stuff one year at a time. Pretty good rate of satisfaction there. The second one there, Jemma, what's that? "The Break products have improved my knowledge and understanding of seasonal climate variability." That's up at 97% and 95% agree. That's probably... There must be a bit of satisfaction there, Dale. Thanks, Jemma.

Jemma Pearl:

The other thing we find quite interesting is the change in time of people's understanding of the climate drivers. This looks at last year's data and how long they've been looking at the break. We also have looked at it over time from 2008 through to 2019, about, does the different climate drivers affect your region? Also, has your knowledge increased? It's quite interesting. The Indian Ocean dipole one, we've been asking for three years. We asked in 2008, 2016, and 2019. Yep. I'm trying to remember off the top of my head. It's interesting to see the increase. Then we had quite a bit of people saying, "Yes, it does affect my region." Then it came back a little bit. Now it's gone forward a bit. I think it depends on the season, too. If, for example, the 2016 was... Everybody was quite interested in what was happening in that region of the ocean. Of course, there was that more emphasis and insight into that at that time.

Graeme Anderson:

Yeah. That's good work, Jemma, because I think what we've all learned with the break is that different seasons, there's one particular climate driver that's deciding to play a significant role. Seeing people that have gone through that, and then you understand, "That wetter year, 2016, Indian Ocean was in its wetter phase." Then suddenly, people carry that bit of a learning into them for the next season. It helps improve confidence on the journey. It's interesting how, in that graph, it's showing that those that have been a subscriber for longer, they've had a few more seasons to actually increase their confidence, said, "Yep, I know that climate driver influences my local rainfall." Yeah, good pick up.

Jemma Pearl:

The next thing that I want to show everybody is the actual products that we've put together as part of this project. The forecast for profit page has some really interesting and fun things on there. It does have all the links to the state version of The Fast Break, so depending on where you are of which one you want to see, and also the two YouTube videos. It also has some other really good things on here as well. We've got the case study section, which has got 10 case studies from a number of different areas in the Southeast. You can click on any one of those, and you'll get an awesome, little case study and information there. These are also available in hard copy. This booklet, if you're interested in a hard copy, just let me know. If you need, just send Heather an e-mail through the climate webinar e-mail address, and I'll get one sent out to you.

Graeme Anderson:

Yeah. They've been at GRDC events and things, too, aren't they? It's like a 50-page booklet, some great, little articles and stories in there.

Jemma Pearl:

Yeah, some-

Dale Grey:

Should be one of those sitting beside every toilet.

Graeme Anderson:

Yep, a great manual to have sitting in there, Dale, exactly. Very good. A lot of good stories, short articles, long articles. It's great, those case studies, of hearing how different farmers and advisors are using forecasts in their decisions. That's good.

Jemma Pearl:

The other awesome thing we've put on here for you is all the links Dale uses when he does his 12 climate model analysis. You can find all those links here with a bit of an explanation of what they are and a few more information ones on the Climate Dogs and other things that we think are all very relevant and interesting. If you're looking for any of those models specifically that Dale uses, you can find the links there.

Jemma Pearl:

The other awesome, cool thing that we've done is gone back into the archives and found those YouTube videos where Dale has provided us with a really interesting analysis or commentary or a way of understanding what was happening. We've snipped off that little gag at the end and provided those for you. There's also little quizzes associated with them, so if you really want to test your knowledge on what we mean by the different climate drivers or what's happening, then you've got them there, too.

Jemma Pearl:

Graeme, I think you're going to show us the local climate tool.

Graeme Anderson:

Yeah, that's right. I guess, with this site, and this is where, as I said, well done, Jemma, on pulling together website there, and also friends at Fed Uni, Federation Uni, helping. One of the things that was requested when we're talking with farmers' advisors. It was about what we now has always worked well is, when you go to a district, you look at the last 100 years of rainfall records. Then Dale's often done this, and say, "Okay, if they're talking about an El Niño, let's have a look at the previous 30 El Niño events and check out, how did that affect this district's rainfall?" Suddenly, farmers and agronomists are really interested in that level of looking back, making sense of history, to then be in a better position to make sense of a forecast.

Graeme Anderson:

The local climate tour was really just doing that. There was Peter Hayman, had done a lot of stuff with his chocolate wheels, and Dale as well. We got what was sitting on their laptops in that process or algorithm and put it into the local climate tool. Jemma, you've got a nice, little instruction for those that want to go there. There's a video that explains how it works, but if you can pop into the tool, it gives a bit of an overview for GRDC. This covers the whole region, so Tazzy, Vic, South Australia, you can see those regions popping up there. Each one of those circles represents a longer-term rainfall record. Along the top, what you're able to do is select different months you might be interested in and basically... Jemma can pick from May to October. That's showing those little chocolate wheels there. The blue is wetter than average years. Red is drier than average years. Orange is average. Shows that, over long term, there's a third of each, which makes sense.

Graeme Anderson:

If you want to see how that changes in, perhaps, an El Niño year, then you can click on those tabs at the top, and it will show, actually, the odds change a bit there. More than half were drier. There's IOD. Which one are we on there, Jemma? That's the IOD positive. There's La Niña, El Niño. They're all there to query. The beauty of it is, you can then burrow in to see what's happening at each site. That one there, just the overview is the... Go back to the IOD negative view. That was the 2016 year, so when the Indian Ocean Dipole was in its generous phase, sending plenty of moisture. You can see it's quite a strong driver for this part of the world, in terms of when it's turning the taps on. Part of that is important, because it's helping people understand their local history and which one of those climate drivers for there. You can click on any one of those wheels.

Graeme Anderson:

Jemma's just clicked on it here for, say, Nhill. It's brought up the Nhill long-term rainfall record. Again, she's clicked on El Niño there. When you look at what's happened at Nhill in the previous El Niño events and rainfall between May and October. It'll tell you there, the red is the driest third of years. This happens... It doubles the chance, basically, of having a dry year. That's what's happened in the past. That little graph on the right-hand side runs through. It basically talks about the deciles of what's happened in previous years, when there were either climate drivers that were in an active phase, whether it was an El Niño or La Niña year or sometime combination years, like when both the Indian Ocean Dipole is in a dry phase teamed up with a dry phase of the Pacific, like an El Niño. Then it tells you, what was the actual deciles for those times that's happened? Jemma's got it there. You can see decile one and two is... Over 50% of those sections were in decile one or two.

Graeme Anderson:

That's the historical stuff that the local tool enables. You can go back, look at your local rainfall, but then suddenly brings together which one of these years was one of these active climate phases?

Jemma Pearl:

Graeme.

Graeme Anderson:

Yeah?

Jemma Pearl:

We've had a question, if we can have a look at a La Niña year.

Graeme Anderson:

Yeah.

Jemma Pearl:

Thanks.

Graeme Anderson:

A La Niña year. You can see the La Niña year for Nhill. This is May to... For the years that were designated La Niña years, that was the split of what's happened at Nhill. A fraction wetter but still not... Probably the weakest of the climate drivers from a growing season rainfall for Nhill, which is really interesting, because one of the parts of this is that, often, people might hear a particular climate word, like an El Niño or a La Niña and suddenly be thinking about a particular year, but that might have been a really strong year. They come in all sorts of different flavours, these climate phases. This enables people to look at what happened in their district in the past and provide some relativity there.

Graeme Anderson:

The graphs just below that are coloured there, Jemma, if you scroll over those. That's looking... Again, that's the Nhill rainfall record. That's May to October. Whatever you choose at the top is the time period. That shows what's happened in the past, but they're coloured depending on which climate phase was active that year. On the right, it's lining them up from driest to wettest. You can see a bit of a colour pattern there, that the reds are when the IOD was in a dry phase, teaming up with an El Niño and often a bigger drought, so when a few of the climate drivers have been misbehaving at the same time, and the big, wetter years are when they've happened to both switched onto the wet.

Graeme Anderson:

It's a bit of an intro to understanding the past is a really key part to then understanding the forecasts and outlooks in the commentary. That next graph there is about that... Also got... That's annual rainfall. You can see the climate drivers. Jemma, you can also switch climate drivers on and off on that. Along the legends there, you can switch them off and say, "I want to know what happens in the neutral years, when there isn't an El Niño or a La Niña or an IOD or anything. You can switch all of the others off. Then you can suddenly see, this is what's happened at Nhill in those years when there was no active phase. It's a handy, little tool to go back and see what's happened in the past.

Graeme Anderson:

I think, Jemma, just down the bottom, what we've also got is... What was interesting, what we've found over a few years... This is a monthly rainfall table, but if you hit the La Niña button or whatever you hit across the top, it'll then print out those past seasons. What we've found from feedback from agronomists and farmers was that, to make sense of this, you actually like to look at different season finishes. If it's this particular thing, you hit the button, which climate driver and which particular months you're interested in. Then you can go back in history, and it'll line them up from driest through to wettest. You can see... We've done that for El Niño, for example. While there's an increased chance of drier... Often, in our minds, it's the driest two that consider heavily in our minds, but when you look at some of the monthly rainfalls for some of those finishes in El Niños, they're actually not as bad as what we're imagining.

Graeme Anderson:

That's a good tool, again, just locally so people can go back in history and have a look at those monthly finishes for each of those different seasons. It's all background of making sense of history, which puts you in a better chance of making sense of forecasts and I guess a bit more faith in forecasts if you know why a particular phase has meant it's been wetter or drier in your district in the past. It helps when Dale starts to talk about those particular climate drivers in the forecast and the bureau's forecast. Starts to make a bit more sense.

Graeme Anderson:

Thanks, Jemma. That was a good, little run-through there. It's a great, little resource there for people to have a look at for their local site. Anything else, Jemma, from you? Right, thank you for doing that.

Graeme Anderson:

Now, we'll hand over to the next part of the project, which was around our training for service providers and agronomists. Like to introduce Mark Stanley. Mark is the director of regional connections, based in the Eyre Peninsula of South Australia. He's got a lot of experience in grains research, development, and extension projects. He led the award-winning garden farming extension outreach project, which was a training program for a lot of service providers. He teamed up with Barry Mudge and Peter Hayman to pull together this particular training package, to go, "It's good that we've got this seasonal forecast information, but how do you use that for making decisions?" which is really quite a fascinating topic. That's what it's all about. Having forecasts is one thing, but when and where do you use them to make a decision? I'm going to hand over to Mark to share what he's done with that part of the project.

Mark Stanley:

Thanks very much, Graeme. As Graeme mentioned, I'm based on the Eyre Peninsula of South Australia. I've had a long history of working with Ag Vic teams through my career and, more recently, Graeme and his team. It's been a pleasure in working on this particular project.

Mark Stanley:

My part in the program was to engage agronomists from South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania, through a series of workshops and full-out discussions to explore if and how seasonal climate forecasts can be better incorporated into the management of grain production. The challenge that we were put to ourselves was to move the use of seasonal climate forecasts from interest value to actually being of significant dollar value for decision-makers at the farm level. I think everyone's interested in knowing what the forecasts are but don't necessarily see the value that it can generate while making better decisions from those forecasts. That's what this part of the program was about. Next slide, please. Yep.

Mark Stanley:

As Graeme's already said, the project team involved Graeme and Dale from Ag Vic. Critical or key to the program as well was the involvement of Peter Hayman and Barry Mudge. I'll explain that in a minute, in terms of the farmer decision to pull what they had developed. We also engaged Debbie Hudson from the Bureau of Meteorology to talk about access S and multi season, a seasonal and multi week forecasting, and also development of new forecast tools. Also, we involved Cam Nicholson from Nicon Rural to talk about his decision matrix and technology that... There are many factors apart from seasonal climate forecasts that farmers use to make day-to-day decisions on their farms. We had Jeanette Long also. She's a professional facilitator. She helped facilitate the webinar series we held in the latest round of engaging agromists. Next slide.

Mark Stanley:

The assumptions behind this part of the project was that farmer decision-making is influenced by trusted sources. A large percentage of farm businesses now engage agronomists, either private agronomists or commercial agronomists or both. Those agronomists have the trust of at least 20 farmers... This is the assumption. At least 20 farmers in their operational area. Quite often, it can be quite a few more. Sometimes, it can be less. We also assume that, by engaging a small number of agronomists, the project can influence decisions made by many farmers because of that trust being a factor. Finally, bringing agronomists into this part of the program brings practical insight and development of decision support tools. Key to this part of the program was looking at the decisions of what tool that Peter and Barry were developing. Next slide, please.

Mark Stanley:

The project methodology... The central paradigm of the methodology was about development of a rapid climate decision analysis tool. I'm not going to go into significant detail about this tool, but what I will say is that this tool is based on using gross, imaginary turns against deciles for any particular forecast and to predict possible outcomes in terms of dollars. The tool can be used to test multiple scenarios. It's a very easy tool to use. It challenges the decision-making of agronomists and their farmer clients. Some of the things that we've used it for in the workshop series is looking at Nitrogen application timing, crop type and crop selection, thunder site application, weed management, herbicides decisions, and also hay and making decisions between hay versus grain. Can we move to the next slide, please?

Mark Stanley:

The project outcomes is that, over a series of two lots of workshops, we've engaged 40 agronomists. The first program we embarked on had 20 agronomists who were involved in face-to-face workshops. Over the second program, which conducted just last month, was delivered through four webinars. Because of COVID restrictions, we had to move to a webinar series. That seemed to work particularly well as well. Potentially, through that exercise, if you're working on the presumption that those 40 agronomists influence 20 farmers' decisions each, we've influenced 800 farmers in the decision-making processes around the use of seasonal climate forecasts. Next slide, please.

Mark Stanley:

At the end of the last program... We're still doing a review of the second program, but the first program, we asked those 20 agronomists how confident they were in accessing seasonal climate forecasts. You can see they're moving from the blue to the orange and also from the right to the left in terms of increasing confidence, that the program was pretty successful in doing that. Next slide.

Mark Stanley:

We also asked how confident were those agronomists in understanding the major drivers of climate. Again, we had a significant shift from the right to left in terms of their understanding of those climate drivers. Next slide, please.

Mark Stanley:

Finally, we asked those involved about the tool that was demonstrated and used in the workshop series, the Rapid Climate Decision Analysis tool. You'll remember that this tool was introduced to these agronomists for the first time in this workshop series. They hadn't seen it before. At the end of the two workshops, we had half, 50% were still deciding about the value of the tool. Are they going to keep on using it? We had about 30% saying yes. It was definitely valuable to them. They were going to keep on using it. The third was no. They didn't... There was 20% that didn't see the value of the tool at this stage. It's worth also noting that the tool is in continuous development, so what those 20 agronomists saw in those workshop series has been improved considerably since then. I think that was reflected in the second round of workshops, where we engaged the 20 agronomists who were much more engaged in the use of that tool compared to the first series of workshops.

Mark Stanley:

To finish off, there is a video being produced that stars Peter Hayman and Barry Mudge, which describes that the background to development of the Rapid Climate Decision Analysis tool and where it came from. It's a nine-minute video. It'll be made available... General availability, hopefully in the next month. That's a really good video to get a background in development of this tool and what it can actually do in terms of making better decisions using climate forecasts.

Mark Stanley:

I think that's about it for me, Graeme.

Graeme Anderson:

Thank you, Mark. Well organized, those workshops. It is important, too, that they... The decision tools, there was great discussions on them. They've been improved as they've gone through. It is quite complex. One of the key things is mapping out for any decision, what's the range of outcomes from decile one...? If you've got a decile one or a decile ten here, plotting that out in a tool, we're showing great value, because it showed the risk exposure of a certain decision to whatever happens with the climate. That's the key bit before you then go and talk about, what's the forecast thinking that where we might be more or likely heading for the coming months? Some really great discussions of those there and what we just finished on last week, with the other workshops. Some great insights there. Looking forward to that YouTube, Mark, when it comes out. We'll be sharing that. Thank you.

Graeme Anderson:

That's a pretty good overview of the different parts of the whole project. There's quite a bit going on there, Heather, so I'm open to any further questions.

Heather Field:

Yes, absolutely. Thank you, Graeme. We do have some questions coming in the chat box, but if you do have some questions, pop those in the chat, and we'll pose those to our panelists.

Heather Field:

We have Claire from the Bureau of Meteorology. She's enjoying today's presentation and has a couple of questions. The first one is to Dale. That is, what's the best time of the day to run your webinars for maximum participation? How do participants interact with you during the event?

Heather Field:

He better not forget he's muted.

Dale Grey:

There we go. Look at that. I was thinking about that before I spoke, too.

Dale Grey:

Thanks for that question, Claire. We've always ran ours at lunchtime like this. It's a blend of what's good for us and what's good for the audience. I also have been involved with ones after work as well, which are clearly not as good for me but might be better for the audience. They're certainly better for farmers, I think, generally, after work. Once you get to the harvest season, they know they're not much good for farmers, either. I've done webinars at a range of times. I don't really think I have a feel, Claire, as to what the best time is. Generally, the best time is people watching the recording when they want. I think that's what the take-home message is for me. It's not so much about the timing when the event is held. It's much more about people doing it in the meantime, when they want to.

Dale Grey:

Of course, when they do that, they aren't able to interact, which is part of your second question. Interaction in webinar comes down to people's comfortableness with the technology. This whole year has probably improved people's confidence, particularly farmers, in terms of being... That webinar actually works for where they are, whether they're on the tractor or something, or sitting at home and having lunch and able to check things and put things in the chat boxes or put their hands up and things. Usually, the amount of chat time for me is directly proportional to how much time I have left. If you don't leave any time for chat, you won't get any. I think we've left 10 minutes here, and I've talked for three of it, so I've got to keep quiet. It does depend sometimes. Once again, I think it depends on how burning the topic is and whether people are making decisions at that time, where the information you have provided is going to help them with that. That really stimulates the decisions, when the decision being made is very pertinent for the time the webinar is on.

Heather Field:

Great. Thank you, Dale. Another follow-up question to the panel, again from Claire. Do we still need to explain El Niño or La Niña, or is it common lingo now? Any thoughts from the panel on that question?

Graeme Anderson:

I'll pop in there. I think the value of the climate tool is that, yes, everyone's heard of El Niño, but the trick is making sense of, what's it done in the past? Then what's the current El Niño shaping up? Because what tends to happen is, if people can hear about an El Niño in the media, the risk is that they think about the driest two of the last 30 El Niño events. That's front of mind. That can really actually mean people make suboptimal decisions, because we particularly had, a couple of years ago, when there was an El Niño. Farmers in district had actually really good soil moisture profiles because they'd snagged a rain event or two. There was risk there of... In their heads, though, are thinking the crops won't be much good, but when they looked at the moisture they had and then they looked at the finishes from previous El Niños in the district, they realized that there was probably an extra yield sitting there in paddocks if they didn't have more nitrogen.

Graeme Anderson:

It's important that, while climate drivers have different phases, it's also understanding how they don't always do the same thing each time they're active. There's lots of flavours of El Niño. That's probably been the main discussions that have happened with our farmers and also the agronomists in the workshops, of trying to understand, yes, the odds swing for these different phases, but exactly how much? Then the key bit is, what decision do you do differently? Which is where the decision tool comes in. That's whether it's an El Niño or La Niña or IOD event. They all still have amongst them some good years and some bad years, but that was probably where most of the discussion was, wasn't it, Mark? Getting into, how do you use this information?

Heather Field:

Thanks, Graeme.

Graeme Anderson:

Thanks, Heather.

Jemma Pearl:

Marks muted. Just letting everyone know.

Mark Stanley:

Yeah.

Heather Field:

We also have a question around the local climate tool. Is that free and/or do you need a subscription? Graeme?

Graeme Anderson:

It's free today for everyone who's joined today. It is free... That's a public website. It's at forecasts for profit. I think that'll be sent out in the link to the recording that everyone has attended today. We'll send the link to the forecast website and the local climate tool. It's there. It was very much something that Peter Hayman and Dale had and done terrific stuff when they were doing talks to farmers and agronomists in the last 10 years. This project enabled us to take it from their laptops and actually put it on a public site. It could go... There's lots of places that could be done for lots of other places. It could be made for a lot more locations, because I do know some people said, "We live in between two of those dots. Could you do one for us, though?" It's definitely been a great chance to be able to pilot this as a tool, which, again, is just making sense of local history, as a step towards better understanding seasonal risk. Thanks, Heather.

Heather Field:

Thanks, Graeme. A question around, is the project ongoing, and what is next? Graeme, you're muted.

Graeme Anderson:

That's the saying for 2020, "You're on mute."

Graeme Anderson:

I think, certainly, The Break... Victoria's been well supported, so we'll be doing that again. We're doing a bit of a review at the minute with regards to this project. There's a survey coming out in the coming weeks for this project and interstate, so we're really keen to hear everyone's feedback from there and hopefully take it from there. I don't know if Randall or... Got any comments there. We're just very keen to hear more feedback.

Randall Wilksch:

Yeah. GRDC's undertaking a bit of a review at the moment, looking at this project and GRDC's funding in that. Certainly, I've been speaking with Graeme about this. Really, we work on grower feedback. If this is a valuable import of growers... If they find it valuable and they find us a good spend of their funds and their levies, then please, get in contact. Let me know. That's how we work on. Thank you.

Heather Field:

Okay. we have one more question. That is from Greg. "I'm wondering whether there is a need for a bridge between understanding SCF and the weather that we actually experience. He's got a follow-on there about, in his experience, trying to communicate climate information to farmers, wanting to understand whether drivers is a basis for becoming more accepting of SCF?

Dale Grey:

I'll have a crack at that one, Greg. Graeme often uses this analogy as well, is that the rainfall that people experience is a function of two things. It's moisture sources and rainfall triggers. The seasonal climate drivers up in our tropics, they affect the moisture sources. It's pretty easy to explain those to farmers. People can pretty easily see that, when there's warmer water or colder water, give a light bulb moment for them to understand that their moisture sources change dramatically with the climate drivers. In actual fact, the climate drivers are very good at affecting the supply of triggers as well, in terms of, in Southeastern Australia, the frontal systems and the low pressure systems. The climate drivers are very good at doing that as well. That's probably a bit less understood. The combination of those two is where we try to get explained to farmers that that is the link between climate forecasts and the weather that they're going to experience at any one time.

Heather Field:

Thanks, Dale. That brings us to the end of our questions. We do have a few comments in the chat box, thanking the panelists and presenters for their presentation today. I also want to thank you all for your time today, preparing and presenting your presentations. We have had 110 register for today's webinar and up to about 50 or 60 online live today. You will see on our screen, we have got another webinar coming up on the 9th of December, where we'll hear from Acacia Pepler from the Bureau of Meteorology, along with Lyndon Kubeil and Dale Grey again from Agriculture Victoria. That's shaping up to be a good webinar. That, we'll be looking at which weather systems cause Victoria's rainfall, and how are they changing?

Heather Field:

As I mentioned earlier, this webinar has been recorded, so we'll send that out to you if you'd like to watch it again or share that with others. You'll also be receiving an e-mail with details for the next webinar coming up. If you can complete our survey when you close out of today's webinar, that would be great. I'd like to wish you all a good afternoon.

Graeme Anderson:

Okay.

Heather Field:

Thanks.

Graeme Anderson:

Thanks very much. I loved it.

Randall Wilksch:

Thank you.

Graeme Anderson:

Thanks, team.

Dale Grey:

Thank you.

Graeme Anderson:

See you.

Page last updated: 04 Jun 2021