Forecasting convert

Casino dairy farmer, Fleur Tonge
Casino dairy farmer, Fleur Tonge, uses weather forecasting to improve dairy farm and business decisions.

Detailed weather forecast data available on the internet has become an essential planning tool for dairy farmers, Sam and Fleur Tonge.

The Tonges milk about 200 cows year round at "Kupidabin", their property near Casino. Their farm group, Sunmilk, took part in a NSW Department of Primary Industries climate change study conducted by Katrina Sinclair.

They gained skills in interpreting weather forecasts, accessing websites and assessing probabilities. The benefits have been easier management, financial gains and reduced stress.

"We realise now the daily media weather reports target people in towns and cities," Mrs Tonge said.

"We need to know the probability of rain to make decisions such as whether to irrigate, sow a crop or cut hay."

So they use a variety of forecasting web sites to assess local weather conditions and to plan farming activities.

Last season, the financial benefits were considerable after they monitored forecasts in the grain growing areas to guide their decisions about forward purchase of stock feed. They have become more confident in taking medium and longerterm planning risks.

Although the Tonges recognise that farming is risky, they describe themselves as conservative.

Longer-term forecasting shows some significant climatic trends that will affect the way the Tonges farm in the future but Mrs Tonge no longer lies awake worrying when she hears El Nino predictions in the media.

"We are now planning for longer dry periods and warmer summers by changing the pasture species we sow, and increasing our focus on fodder conservation," she said.

The Tonges recognise that their climate in the future will be less reliable, requiring a more flexible management approach.

Ways that dairy farmers can use weather forecasting will be part of the Dairy Research Foundation’s annual symposium next month.

Mrs Tonge and Julie Evans from the Bureau of Meteorology will be among speakers at the symposium, at Camden Civic Centre on November 8 and 9 2007.