With El Niño climate models steady, now is the time to review drought resilience

Vic Drought Hub - Farmland 1

MEDIA RELEASE: 18 May 2023

Putting farm businesses under a ‘drought microscope’ is step one in being prepared


microscope credit Yassine Khalfalli-unsplash LR
Image credit: Yassine Khalfalli | Unsplash

The latest Climate Driver Update has shown climate models have remained steady since the previous report in April.

Michael Tausz, who heads up the Victoria Drought Resilience Adoption & Innovation Hub (Vic Hub), said, “These updates, issued by the Bureau of Meteorology [BOM], provide the latest information on the state of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation ­– more commonly referred to as ‘ENSO’ – and the likely effect it will have on Australia.”

He said following on from the April update, the ENSO Outlook had remained at “El Niño watch”, meaning ENSO is currently neutral.

“A neutral ENSO indicates around a 50% chance of El Niño developing this year – which is in the region of double the normal likelihood. Looking at historical records shows us that El Niño has developed in roughly half the years that the ENSO Outlook reached ‘El Niño watch’ status. So a ‘watch’ is no guarantee that El Niño will actually occur, rather it signals that some of the typical signs are in place.”

Prof Tausz said the regular outlooks assessed the ENSO’s likely upcoming evolution as it moves through the different phases of El Niño, La Niña and neutral.

“ENSO is just one of various climate drivers that can influence Australia’s temperature and rainfall patterns. The aim of issuing these regular outlook updates is to caution the Australian population about the likelihood of an El Niño or La Niña occurring via a ‘stepped approach’ based on incremental changes, rather than a sudden announcement of ‘we’re now in an El Niño phase’ for example.”


Time for drought-resilience preparation


Fiona Best is Regional Director for the Vic Hub, which is supported by the Australian Government’s Future Drought Fund (FDF). She said the current situation highlighted the critical investment and work of the FDF through the Hub in drought preparedness for businesses and communities across the state of Victoria.

“The Climate Driver Updates, such as issued this week, help the community plan. We’ve monitored the updates published since mid-February referencing climate drivers in transition. We know that there are now typical precursors in place for El Niño, and we know that El Niño characteristically suppresses rainfall across Victoria – indeed all of eastern Australia – during winter and spring.

Average of international model June 2023 forecasts for NINO3.4
Average of international model June 2023 forecasts for NINO3.4 Source: BOM



“So this makes now an important time for all farm businesses to put various elements of their operation under a ‘drought-resilience microscope’.”





Ms Best, who is also CEO of the Vic Hub’s North-West Node, Birchip Cropping Group, said this process entails reviewing and assessing the capacity of an entity to withstand extended periods of dry weather, and, should it happen, drought. She said some elements will be common across all enterprises, with others enterprise specific.

“Some top-line examples are business planning, soil cover and fodder or grain on hand, through to understanding the climate and drought-risk information for resilience – and all of these are focal areas of the Vic Hub’s activities.”

Ms Best listed elements common across farming businesses are being financial aspects – equity ratios, cash flow and reserves and the producer’s ability to access cash.

“Elements specific to different farming sectors include fodder on hand – is there enough, if so, for how long? Will feed need to be bought in? When? What? From where? Or scrutinising the risk profile of various crop rotations – does a crop type or variety need to be changed? Does planting time need to be changed? Does paddock preparation need to be approached differently? Do I have a stock containment area established and is it fit for purpose?

“These are just a few ideas, but this ‘drought-resilience microscope’ process is vitally important for farmers to identify areas of opportunity and risk within their business.”

Ms Best said farmers had many resources to avail themselves of, including discussions with banks and financial planners and attending field days to access the latest agronomic information. Talking with other farmers about strategies they are putting in place in readiness for drier times is one of the best ways to exchange ideas and learn of new approaches.

El Niño commentary Vic Hub gum tree in paddock credit Elaine Alex unsplash LR
Image credit: Elaine Alex | Unsplash

“On the Vic Hub website, we also have some excellent information about farm finance, springing from our research and farmer consultations, which identified the important role of farm advisors – be they bank managers, accountants, agronomists or rural suppliers – in building strong farm businesses that are drought prepared and drought resilient.”

For more information on the Vic Hub and its work, please visit the Victoria Drought Resilience Adoption & Innovation Hub website.


Media Contact

 For more information please contact Emma O’Halloran, Vic Hub, emma.ohalloran@unimelb.edu.au

 on behalf of:

Samantha Schelling, Communications Officer

Victoria Drought Resilience Adoption & Innovation Hub

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