Saturday, June 15, 2024

High-tech investment to expand drought forecasting

The Government is set to invest in the development of a new forecasting tool that makes use of innovative climate modelling to help farmers and growers prepare for dry conditions, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor announced today. 

The new approach, which the Minister says will cost $200,000 and be jointly funded through the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), will provide daily drought forecasts out to 35 days.

Later, the project will also explore drought predictions up to six months ahead, he said.

NIWA currently provides seasonal climate outlooks each month that look three months ahead, but are not drought specific.

“We are harnessing the latest in climate and data science to put information into the hands of the people who can make the best use of it,” Mr O’Connor said.

“Knowing well in advance when dry conditions are heading your way means you can cut your cloth accordingly at critical times on-farm. Having early warning can help determine stocking levels, water storage and feed management options.”

He said state-of-the-art data-driven techniques were being used by NIWA scientists to make predictions more precise and more accurate for New Zealand, building on a weather model released in 2020 by the United States of America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“Droughts are a part of farming, but when they extend for many months or affect large swathes of the country, they can have a major impact on rural communities,” the Minister said.

The new forecast tool will be a companion to the New Zealand Drought Index. The index was developed by NIWA in conjunction with MPI and launched in 2017. It is used to determine the current status of drought across the country and measures the duration and intensity of recent dryness.

“A large-scale drought adverse event classification that was in place for large parts of New Zealand beginning in March 2020 was lifted on 30 November 2021.”

“During that time the Government responded with about $20 million of funding to help rural communities, including support for recovery advice. Other assistance was also provided through feed co-ordination services.

“With climate change, severe weather events are both more frequent and intense. So, it’s important we help farmers and growers get their businesses ready for future climate conditions,” said Minister O’Connor.

Development of the forecasting tool will benefit from the input of a wide range of end users. As well as farmers and growers, representatives from local and central government, advisors and industry bodies will be consulted. The tool is expected to be available by the end of 2023. 

“Improved forecasting will alleviate some of the financial and mental burden that drought puts on farmers and growers. It will also make our primary industries more resilient, productive and sustainable.”

Visit the NZ Drought Index here: www.niwa.co.nz/drought-index

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