Driest ever September deepens Australia’s drought

FILE PHOTO: Tracks made by sheep can be seen in a drought-affected paddock on a farm located on the outskirts of the town of Coolah in central New South Wales, Australia, September 17, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia had its driest September on record last month, and though spring rains are forecast this week across parts of the continent’s east that has seen the worst drought in years, the season is predicted to offer little relief from the dry weather.

The country’s east coast has recorded less than a fifth of its typical rainfall over the last three months to September and is barren, with winter crops failed and graziers buying in grain to feed their herds.

Wheat production has been cut to its lowest in a decade, the wool clip and wine crush are set to drop and the drought has already swung crop protection company Nufarm Ltd to an annual loss.

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said on Wednesday the year so far is the second-driest recorded in the country’s biggest river catchment, the Murray-Darling since records began in 1900, and last month was the driest September logged.

That’s pushed soil moisture, which can take months to replenish, “very much below average” across a vast swathe of the continent stretching from the outback Kimberley region in Western Australia to cropping and pastureland in the southeast.

Falls up to 25 mm (1 inch) are forecast in drought-wizened central New South Wales state on Thursday, with lighter rain predicted lasting until Saturday, the bureau said, though the coming three months are still forecast drier than average.

“For the grain side of things it’s too little too late and I’d imagine it’s probably the same for sheep areas,” said Matt Dalgleish, trading manager at agricultural consultant Mecardo.

“There might be some cattle producers, if they’ve still got stock, to get a little bit of growth in the pasture but it’s probably not going to be enough to carry them through summer.”

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Gopakumar Warrier)

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