El Niño threatens Australia
By Boyd Champness
THE Australian government has conceded that the El Niño effect, now causing widespread drought throughout Australia, will severely lower the nations cereal production, as well as casting doubts on economic growth.
Australian treasurer Peter Costello said weather analysts were predicting a repeat of conditions which led to the 1982/83 drought, yet the government had not revised its overall economic growth forecast of 3.75% in 1997/98.
Speaking at a conference in Melbourne, Mr Costello said: “Its too early to change the forecasts because the timing, distribution and the amount of rainfall over the next few weeks will be critical in determining farm production ultimately achieved.”
This year the Australian government forecast a fall in farm production of 2%, after a 9% increase in 1996/97. Farm production increased by a 24% in 1995/96 after Australia reaped one of its largest harvests ever.
Latest forecasts for Australias 1997/98 wheat production suggest a decline in production to about 16m tonnes, compared with 23.5m tonnes last season. Barley production is expected to fall to about 6m tonnes, compared to 6.6m tonnes last year.
South Australia, the state so far hardest hit by the El Niño effect out of the countrys six states, is facing a fall in wheat and barley production of up to 40%. The South Australian Farmers Federation said severe losses had already occurred, regardless of whether the drought broke or not.