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Weather radar announced for Victorian grain belt, ending 10-year farmer campaign

Danielle Grindlay, Wednesday April 6, 2016 - 15:53 EST

A key grain growing region of Victoria will see construction of its first real-time weather radar, ending a 10-year campaign by local farmers.

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) has been commissioned to build a Doppler radar in the Wimmera region, using $8.25 million in joint State and Federal Government funding announced on Wednesday.

Weather information for the Wimmera Southern Mallee region is based on data from radars across the border in Mount Gambier and hundreds of kilometres north, in Mildura.

Computer-modelled data used to forecast weather events in the Wimmera have therefore been notoriously inaccurate.

As part of their long-term campaign, of expensive decisions based on poor information.

Victorian Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford said scientists would now investigate the best position for the radar, which should be built by 2018.

"We're moving on this pretty quickly, so I'd hope that we'll be able to see construction soon," she said.

Farmers no longer have to rely on 'gut feel'

Grain Producers Australia chair and Rupanyup farmer, Andrew Weidemann, said the subsequent funding commitment was "a long time coming and a great piece of news".

"Growers are potentially spending $50,000 to $150,000 on an application of nitrogen at any one time," he said.

"We've been — just like every other farmer from here through to the Mallee — relying on a gut feel that it's going to rain or not going to rain to make those decisions.

"We've all experienced times where the predictions for the weather haven't been what was forecast, and that has certainly cost growers dearly."

Mr Weidemann said accurate weather data could also reduce farmers' risk profile when it came to crop insurance policies.

"Having that kind of information at a more localised level will most likely lead to a reduced cost in premiums, because of the known weather patterns," he said.

"There are things that, in time, this [radar] will deliver that people haven't even thought about."

State Governments take the lead on radar funding

The Federal Government has historically been responsible for weather radar funding.

But in this case the Victorian Government will fund construction of the technology to the value of $5 million — money arising from the sale of the Port of Melbourne lease.

The Federal Government will cover operational and maintenance costs for 15 years, to the value of $3.25 million.

"This is definitely a Federal Government responsibility," Victorian Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford said, adding that the decision to use state taxpayer dollars was about good business.

"We're really interested in the economic boost that it can provide to this part of Victoria.

"This is not something we see as often as everyone would like to - it's actually a really good example of state and federal governments working very well to come up with a practical solution."

The Western Australian Government set a precedent last year when it announced $23 million for the construction of three Doppler weather radars in its wheat belt.

'Prioritised' BOM funding

The backdrop to the Wimmera radar announcement is Federal Government cuts to weather services across Australia.

Earlier this year the Bureau of Meteorology confirmed it would and move to automated observation services.

Mildura station's sole employee was axed last year, and federal Member for the Mallee Andrew Broad said BOM funding needed to be "prioritised".

"What are the products that are going to drive productivity? Weather radar is going to do that, seven-day forecast is going to do that, and better focus on seasonal forecasts is going to do that," he said.

"If that means we've had to move some [funding] away from long-term climate science — which we know climate change is happening and we've largely ascertained that — then that's not unreasonable."

Mr Broad declined to comment on whether further cuts to weather services were likely, instead pointing to a strained budget.

"The Federal Government is spending $30 billion more than it is getting in taxpayer revenue," he said.

"It is responsible that we try and ensure that our savings measures are found wherever we possibly can."


© ABC 2016

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