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Australian drought set to end but takes toll

The El Nino drought currently affecting much of Australia is forecast to end by March or April - but not before yields are reduced by up to 30%.

The overall yield for the 2003 harvest which is now underway will almost certainly fall to 1.45m tonnes compared to the 1.61m of 2002, and could be as low as 1.13m in worst hit places.

One of these is the Murray Darling region spanning the Victoria-New South Wales (NSW) border. It is home to Lindemans Karadoc winery, which produces the celebrated Bin 65 Chardonnay, and BLR Hardy’s Banrock Station.

Angus Kennedy, operations and technical director at BRL Hardy, has confirmed that the 2003 vintage will be ‘short, sharp and small’.

But not everyone laments a cut in volume. ‘A somewhat reduced crush in 2003 would help the depletion of the national wine stock which is at an all-time high,’ Australian wine guru James Halliday wrote back in December.

Australia’s current El Nino, which took hold late last summer, has given rise to some of the driest weather since records began in 1900, most notably along the country’s eastern seaboard and in the Margaret River region of Western Australia. Around 93% of NSW is now officially in drought.

Yet the current El Nino could soon be over. ‘We have every reason to believe that [El Nino] will decline over the next few months,’ Blair Trewin of the National Climate Centre said.

El Nino happens every 4-5 years and can last up to 18 months. It occurs in Australia when warmer mid-Pacific currents attract rainfall from the east of the country, leaving states short of water and often bringing drought.

The strongest El Nino recorded in Australia was in 1982-83. It was responsible for more than AUS$18bn (€9.8bn) in economic damages and 2000 deaths.

Written by Liz Hughes31 January 2003

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