Central Victoria in ‘green drought’, farmer says

Picture: DARREN HOWE
Picture: DARREN HOWE

One farmer in central Victoria says the region is experiencing a “green drought”, with enough rain to keep the landscape from looking dried out but not enough to properly sustain farmers.

Jarklin farmer Graham Maxted said that while the landscape had a “green tinge”, there was no feed for stock. “There’s no guts in it,” Charlton farmer Adam Soulsby added.

An update from Agriculture Victoria earlier this month said June rain had resulted in limited improvement in deep soil moisture conditions, because the dry soil had soaked it up.

The Bureau of Meteorology’s monthly drought reported, released July 5, said the start of the southern wet season – which corresponded to the agricultural cropping season – had been drier than average, while lower-level soil moisture in June remained average.

The first six months of 2018 saw below average or very much below average rainfall in most of central Victoria, coupled with record average maximum temperatures.

Parts of central Victoria experienced a serious rainfall deficiency, with some areas – Bendigo among them – seeing 100 to 200 millimetres less than the long-term average.

The Bureau of Meteorology says for the southeastern quarter of Australia, January to June 2018 was the fourth-driest first half of the year since comparable records began in 1900.

The bad news is likely to continue for farmers, with the Bureau of Meteorology’s outlook suggesting drier than average conditions will continue into spring.

The Bureau rates the chance of the region receiving more than its median rainfall in the July to September period unlikely.

For the farmers in parts of the region like Charlton and Jarklin, there is a less than a 50 per cent chance they will receive more than 100 millimetres of precipitation in that time.

The Bureau of Meteorology’s vegetation index shows vegetation across Victoria was less green than the long-term average in June, significantly more so than it was in the six-month period from January to June overall.

The region has also seen some unseasonally warm temperatures this year: in April, some parts of the central Victoria experiencing their hottest day on record for that month. On April 11, the temperature in Bendigo reached 34.3 degrees – almost 13 degrees above the long-term average.

The lack of rain continued back to mid-2017, with the Bureau of Meteorology data showing that in the 12 months to July, there was below average rainfall in many parts of central Victoria.

But Coliban Water opened the rural water season with 100 per cent allocation, thanks to the heavy inflows of the 2016-17 season.