What does last week’s El Niño ‘watch’ mean for Victorian agriculture?

Vic Drought Hub - Farmland 1

MEDIA RELEASE: 20 March 2023

Newly available knowledge and understanding can greatly increase preparedness.


With the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) simultaneously declaring the end of La Niña and an El Niño ‘watch’, how can farmers, rural and regional Victorian communities best prepare?


Michael Tausz, who heads up the Victoria Drought Resilience Adoption & Innovation Hub, said, “El Niño ‘watch’ means that the BOM estimates a 50% chance of an El Nino patterns developing. Based on experience from last century, El Niño has a reputation of bringing severe droughts and high temperatures.”

He said it was worth noting that weather patterns have already changed compared with those from 1950-2000.

“We are already at the point of more extremes: La Niña is still likely to bring strong, episodic rainfall and floods; aside from that, severe drought and heat is now as likely in ‘neutral’ conditions as in El Niño. The last El Niño in 2015 brought severe drought to Victoria, Tasmania, southern South Australia and tropical Queensland, but spared the Northern Territory and NSW. The most recent droughts and severe bushfires happened during neutral conditions.”

Prof. Tausz said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had declared La Niña finished earlier in March.

“Quickly warming eastern Pacific Ocean temperatures then prompted the BOM to issue a ‘watch’ for El Niño – with its infamous reputation for bringing drought – so rapidly after the La Niña demise.

“An uncertain period has already begun with the demise of La Niña, and now is a good time to think about drought preparedness, seek out new information and revisit drought plans.”

He said the Vic Hub is working to make relevant information available, and supports projects developing or demonstrating options to increase drought resilience and preparedness.

“Our work is all about helping connect Victorian farmers and farming communities with knowledge that will help them, and their businesses, survive well through drought by being prepared.”

Approaching uncertainty


Prof. Tausz said, “The Vic Hub uses a four-phase drought-cycle model to guide planning and decision making.

“This model describes ‘good periods’ with good growing conditions, while period two is ‘The Uncertain Period’. La Niña has resulted in heavy flooding in many areas, however the high rainfall and generally milder conditions have supported record yields in other areas that were not directly impacted by floods. In these areas the outlook has now moved towards the ‘Uncertain Period’.”

He said with the BOM issuing an El Niño “watch”, it makes sense to look further at the areas to consider and opportunities that period two brings.

“It will be important to revisit decision-making triggers, thinking about when to decide to do something different from what was originally planned for the season ahead.”

Prof. Tausz said connecting farmers to innovations that lead to drought resilience is at the core of the Australian Government’s Future Drought Fund (FDF) and the Vic Hub’s existence. He pointed to some of the tools available through the Vic Hub’s website, which include the FDF’s Drought Self-Assessment Tool that can help farmers assess their risks and guide farm planning, and Climate Services for Agriculture, which has climate information and projections for every location.

“I encourage people to also seek out information on the many projects running throughout the Vic Hub that are working to improve drought resilience, relevant to their industry and region.”

He said, “The ‘drought cycle’ thinking is very good in terms of decision making, and that is the point we are wanting to make here: having a decision-making framework is crucial. But one thing that should be noted with the concept of a ‘cycle’ is that these drought cycles now happen on top of climate change, so that learning from past experiences alone will not prepare us for the future, because the same past conditions will not be experienced.

“While last week’s El Niño watch is no guarantee to bring immediate drought, climatic variability is an accepted part of farming, and climate-change impacts are increasing that variability.

“So it makes sense to take a long-term approach towards building drought resilience in this changing climatic environment – and those actions can start today.”

For more information on the four-phase drought-cycle explanation, and tools and knowledge to help farmers be drought prepared, visit the Victoria Drought Resilience Adoption & Innovation Hub website.



Media Contact

Samantha Schelling, Communications Officer

Victoria Drought Resilience Adoption & Innovation Hub

samantha.schelling@unimelb.edu.au | mobile: 0403 106 404


About the Vic Hub

Drought preparedness and resilience of Victoria’s agricultural industries, environment and regional communities, encompassing broader agricultural innovation, is at the core of the Victoria Drought Resilience Adoption & Innovation Hub’s work. The Vic Hub links research with community needs for sustainable outcomes by engaging with a range of industry and community stakeholders.

A state-wide collaboration of 10 organisations, the Vic Hub is one of eight hubs established nationally through the Australian Government’s Future Drought Fund (FDF). The Vic Hub is led by the University of Melbourne, with headquarters at UM’s Dookie Campus, and includes five farming organisations (Birchip Cropping Group, Food & Fibre Gippsland, Mallee Regional Innovation Centre, Riverine Plains and Southern Farming Systems), four universities (UM, Deakin, Federation and La Trobe), and the State Government (through Agriculture Victoria).

For more information on the Vic Hub and its work, please visit https://vicdroughthub.org.au