News

Drought Still Stalks Australian Farmers

The most severe drought for 100 years in Australia is getting worse.  Farmers warn that this winter's wheat crop could be even smaller than last year's if rain does not come soon.  Most Australian grain is exported and empty Outback grain silos have contributed to shortages and rising global prices.  Australia is the third-biggest wheat exporter behind the U.S. and Canada.  From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

With the drought showing no signs of easing, Australian farmers say the chances of a bumper wheat crop this year look slim.

Jock Lawrie is the president of the New South Wales Farmers' Association. He says that good rains at start of the sowing season did not last.

"But, of course, we had a very dry autumn right across many parts of New South Wales," Lawrie noted.  "It's knocking some of the forecasts of production down.  There's no doubt they were anticipating a good winter crop but as time went by, of course, those figures get knocked back down and they still will continue to get knocked down until we get a good widespread rain right across the wheat-growing belt."

The drought - known here as the "Big Dry" - has forced more than 10,000 Australian farming families off the land over the past five years.

Australian farmers are in the middle of the growing season for their winter wheat - a crop that is planted as the weather starts to cool in April or so, and then is harvested early in the warm summer months, toward the end of the year.

Wheat farmers in New South Wales - the second-biggest wheat growing area in Australia - have seen yields shrink dramatically.  And the situation elsewhere in the country is not much better.

Much of Australia's wheat harvest is sold overseas, mainly to the Middle East and Asia.

Last year's poor harvest contributed to the current international food crisis - with tight supplies and increasing demand forcing prices higher.

Ian MacDonald is the New South Wales Minister for Primary Industries.

"Up until 2002, the five-year average (harvest) was around 5.7 million tons, a large percentage of that wheat then being exported," MacDonald explained.  "However, for instance, last year it was one-point-eight million tons, so there's a huge shortfall there that is obviously not going onto the international market and therefore would be putting - in conjunction with a number of other factors - pressure and upward movement in prices globally."

Australian officials have cut this year's wheat output forecast by about nine percent to just under 24 million tons.  The amount of barley produced is also likely to be below previous estimates.

There is better news for the next rice crop, which is expected to hit 253,000 tons.   That is up considerably from the paltry 19,000 tons that was just harvested, after the drought had reduced irrigation water supplies.

Australia's canola harvest is also expected to exceed last year's figure.

Ian Macdonald says farmers still face great uncertainty.

"Hopefully we can get some decent rain although it's not looking very good, with 62 percent of New South Wales in drought and only 13 percent satisfactory. So, the outlook at this point is rather bleak to say the least," he said.

Australians are not immune from inflationary effect of world grain shortages. Grocery bills here have soared 45 percent in the past decade.

Christopher Zinn from the consumer group, Choice, says Australians are generally an optimistic bunch and will be hoping that the problems will end soon.

"We're still cushioned and we're still the Lucky Country in so many ways but these realities - these global realities - are really coming home with a vengeance now," Zinn said.  "So, I think that there is a reality check going on - might be uncomfortable.  Hopefully, that mythology of the Lucky Country, people hope they'll steer their way through.  But we'll see how long it lasts and how fast basically the price increases keep coming through."

News about Australia's shrinking wheat crop comes just as heavy rains and floods in the United States have destroyed millions of hectares of corn and soybean crops. The U.S. government expects the corn crop to be 10 percent lower than last year's harvest.

Australian wheat farmers who do manage to produce a healthy crop this year hope to take advantage of record prices on international markets.  They are, though, unlikely to enjoy a handsome pay day.  Any profit they make will be reduced by the high cost of fuel and fertilizers.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs