Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Climate change in Australia

Australia cuts wheat harvest forecast to 10-year low on drought
Lower wheat production will reduce Australia's wheat export capacity.

4 December, 2018

Australia has lowered its wheat production forecast by 11 per cent to the smallest in a decade amid a crippling drought across the country's east coast that may cut exports from the world's fourth biggest supplier.

Wheat production during the 2018-19 season will total 16.95 million tonnes, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES). That was below ABARES' September estimate of 19.1 million tonnes, which was on course to be the lowest since 2008 when output hit just 13.6 million tonnes.

Lower wheat production will reduce Australia's wheat export capacity, supporting global benchmark prices that rose to their highest in more than two months on Monday.

Australia typically exports two-thirds of its wheat but, with dry weather hampering local production, demand from domestic millers will supplant major customers such as Indonesia.

The outlook also casts a shadow over Australia's economy and its largest listed bulk grain handler, GrainCorp, which earns most of its revenues from trading wheat.

GrainCorp on Monday said it received an unsolicited $2.38 billion takeover approach from a little-known asset manager. Analysts say the timing of the offer was opportunistic as the unfavourable weather limited the bulk grain handler's ability to earn revenue.

Production in Australia's east coast has been particularly hampered with the entire state of NSW, the second-largest producing region, hit by drought earlier this year.

ABARES said production from NSW would reach 1.98 million tonnes, the lowest since 1995.

"I've just finished harvesting a bit of seed but that is about it, certainly no wheat this year," said Dan Cooper, a farmer in Caragabal, NSW, located 400 km (250 miles) west of Sydney.

While the dry weather is unlikely to wilt Australia's wheat crop any further just weeks before harvest begins, the country's weather bureau said the drought was expected to continue until early next year.

Australia's Bureau of Meteorology sees an 80 per cent chance of warmer-than-average temperatures between December 1 and February 28.

Warning Queensland heatwave causing erratic snake behaviour after man bitten in bed

4 December, 2018

Finding a snake in your bed could be one of the unanticipated consequences of climate change, animal experts in Australia warn.

The warning comes after a north Queensland man found himself with a strange bedfellow over the weekend, with an unknown snake biting him a number of times on the face.

Tony Kenwright, from Mackay, went to hospital as a precaution, but it's believed the snake that bit him was a non-venomous tree snake.

Mackay-based snake catcher and breeder Brett Modra said it was one of a number of erratic snake behaviours he's seen recently.

Mr Modra said heat would affect venomous snakes more than pythons.

Beyond the current heatwave, the overall warming trend has disrupted snakes' breeding cycles, meaning there could potentially be more snakes, acting more aggressively, because they were charged up by the heat.

"So the likelihood of a venomous snake coming into a dwelling to escape the heat is probably a lot more than it used to be," Mr Modra said.

University of Queensland snake expert Professor Bryan Fry agrees, saying snakes are the "scaly canaries in the coal mine" warning of deeper problems in the ecosystem.

"Snake encounters will go up with this extreme weather as snakes are trying to escape the heat," Professor Fry said.

Data on snakebites was surprisingly poor in Australia, he said, as doctors aren't required to report instances to authorities, but anecdotally incidents of humans being bitten are rising.

"We're definitely seeing increases that are paralleling these acute climatic events such as these recent heatwaves, with snakes trying desperately to seek shelter from heat that would otherwise kill them."

Over the weekend Queensland Health issued a warning about the heatwave affecting snake behaviour.

"There are reports of increased presentations of people with snake bite, particularly up north," acting Chief Health Officer Sonya Bennett said.

Gold Coast based snake catcher Tony Harrison said he hadn't noticed any difference in snake behaviour in his area over the last few months, with southeast Queensland largely spared the severity of the heatwaves affecting central and northern parts of Queensland.

However he said the proportion of dangerous venomous snakes to which he was being called out had risen, because people were better educated about what types of snakes posed a threat.

"In the old days people would see something long and thin and call me. Now they get out their phone, take a picture and ask social media what it is, and if they get told it's a carpet python they leave it there," Mr Harrison said.

The weather bureau's climate outlook for this summer, released last week, predicts a dry summer with temperatures above average for most of Queensland and other parts of Australia.

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