LOOKING UP: Morton Vale farmer Brendan Dipple says new research into more accurate long-range forecasts is desperately needed.
LOOKING UP: Morton Vale farmer Brendan Dipple says new research into more accurate long-range forecasts is desperately needed. Dominic Elsome

Project aims to provide more accurate long-term forecasts

WEATHER is at the heart of every farm - it controls growers' livelihoods and forecasting it accurately is a big business.

Now the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries has teamed up with the Bureau of Meteorology to improve the reliability of mid to long-term forecasting.

The project is working to produce crop-specific multi-week and seasonal forecasts for the major two vegetable production regions in Queensland - the Lockyer Valley and Granite Belt.

The research takes an industry-wide approach to climate forecasts, as adverse weather can have an effect along the entire industry supply chain.

Moreton Vale farmer Brendan Dipple is one of the producers working with the team to test new forecasting system and said the accurate predictions were needed.

"The need for more reliable forecasting has been here since I moved here in 1998," Mr Dipple said.

"The Ipswich forecast doesn't really work for us, it's different climate and the Toowoomba and Darling Downs forecast doesn't really work for us either - we have a unique set of climatic situations here."

The herb and vegetable farmer said having an accurate long-term forecast would be incredibly useful for his 28ha operation and the work so far had been encouraging.

"They'll put a prediction out and give us a bit of an idea what it's about and we go back and review," he said.

"If they can give it to us a little more ... easy to get and easy to read, then it's a win-win for us because we have bugger-all time to spend on the detail."

Mr Dipple said the holy grail would be long-range forecasts that could predict weather events weeks ahead to allow farmers to prepare.

He explained this wouldn't simply be for planting and harvest planning but would also benefit farmers preparing for disasters - such as what happened to many in the 2011 floods.

"I lost about 12,000 cubic metres of soil," he said.

"If we had of planted some grain in expectation of that flood we would have preserved a lot of work in the short and mid term.

"If we can get a good three to four-month model working then when we know there's a wet system coming and there's a high probability of that sort of rain, I can cover up in grain."

Funding for the future

Research has also been funded to better assist the grazing industry in managing drought and climate risks.

The Northern Australia Climate Program (NACP) is funded through the Drought and Climate Adaptation Program, and is similarly working to increase the accuracy of forecasting models for primary producers, hoping to reduce the impacts drought and climate instability can have on cattle production in the state.

Visiting the University of Southern Queensland campus at Toowoomba last week, Queensland Minister for Agricultural Industry Development Mark Furner said the $21million program was a partnership with leading scientists and industry to assist the grazing, cropping and horticulture industries.

"The Northern Australia Climate Program is an $8million partnership between the Queensland Government, USQ and Meat and Livestock Australia Donor Company to help the grazing industry better manage drought and climate risks," Mr Furner said.

"The project is improving reliability of multi-week, seasonal and multi-year forecasts, and establishing a network of 'climate mates' to support the delivery of customised climate information and products into regional networks to help with business decision making."

With most of the country still experiencing one of the worst droughts in decades, more accurate forecasting models could be a game-changer for the struggling cattle industry.