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F. Drought Impacts - Assessing Exceptional Circumstances

Enhanced framework for analysing climate variability and its impacts for policy purposes

G. Laughlin, Dr.; telephone (02) 6272 3581; facsimile (02) 6272 4734;

Research organisation: Bureau of Rural Sciences, PO Box E11, Kingston, ACT 2604


CSIRO Division of Atmospheric Research, the Division of Land and Water and the Center for Earth Observations (Mr Tim McVicar);

Queensland Department of Natural Resources, Climate Impacts and Grazing
Systems (Dr Wayne Hall)

Sponsor: LWRRDC, Land and Water Resources Research and Development Corporation


The new Agriculture - Advancing Australia policy sets up a framework to assist in building the competitiveness, sustainability and profitability of Australian agriculture. Part of this policy package recognises that there are exceptional circumstances, including drought, that are beyond the scope of normal risk management, and that in these circumstances it is in the national interest for the Government to provide assistance (Exceptional Circumstances).


To enhance government responsiveness to Exceptional Circumstances (usually drought) by improving BRS capacity to deliver evidence-based assessments to AFFA (formerly DPIE) and the Minister through:

  • researching new approaches to the analysis of climate variability and its impact(s) on agriculture; and
  • developing an Integrated Toolset that will integrate scientific evidence, from a range of sources, required for customised delivery of assessments of Exceptional Circumstance applications.


The key role for BRS in undertaking its scientific reviews of Exceptional Circumstance applications and other confidential advice to government is in bringing together separate streams of evidence from research being undertaken in other agencies dealing with climate variability and agriculture, into a customised and integrated assessment.

Qualitative and quantitative descriptions of the following will be developed:

  • different attributes of climate variability (short, medium and long term variations in the rainfall of major growing seasons) as causes of events;
  • the impacts on agricultural production and sustainability, such as through:

- combinations of enhanced AVHRR reflectances and brightness temperatures that are well correlated with useful measures of biomass production, laser-based vegetation profiling, and

- outputs from pasture simulations and pasture trials;

  • the principles of good risk management at regional scales.

Progress: The project officially commences in January 1999. However a pilot study is currently underway.

Status: New project

Period: starting date 1999-01; completion date 2001-06

Publications: BRS intends to publish major findings in refereed journals.


Objective criteria for exceptional circumstances declarations: improving scientific and economic inputs to decision making

White, D.H. Dr; Ph: (02) 6254 5936; Fax: (02) 6255 2455;

Research organisations: Bureau of Resource Sciences, PO Box E11, Kingston ACT 2604; Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics, GPO Box 1563, Canberra ACT 2601.

Collaborators: DPIE Rural Division, Rural Adjustment Scheme Advisory Council, State representatives and other major clients will be consulted throughout the project to ensure optimal targeting and responsiveness of the project's direction and products.

Sponsors: Department of Primary Industries and Energy (Cabinet initiative)


1. To develop regionally sensitive meteorological, agronomic and environmental criteria that can assist DPIE to make consistent and equitable Exceptional Circumstances declarations in Australia;

2. To estimate the extent to which the likely frequency of Commonwealth intervention is sensitive to the choice of scientific and economic criteria;

3. To develop an objective set of financial criteria that can be used in conjunction with physical measures when declaring areas requiring Exceptional Circumstances provisions (ABARE);

4. To provide ongoing support as required to DPIE and RASAC in the form of information and analyses to assist in the implementation of existing Exceptional Circumstances policies.

Methodology: BRS will continue the development of regionally sensitive scientific indicators for determining drought exceptional circumstances. Field, industry and satellite data and models will be used to define effective rainfall and demonstrate how periods of deficiency may lead to agricultural drought in different environments for the major farming systems. The likely rate of Commonwealth intervention will be determined. ABARE will select regions on the basis of the availability of adequate data sets (and models), and their suitability for representative case studies. Definitions of the existence and severity of 'drought' will be related to farm financial performance. Key indicators of farm financial performance will be identified using farm survey data and related to short term cash flow and longer term viability and the related benchmarks for these indicators. Financial performance during past droughts will be assessed.

Progress: Project completed, workshop held in October 1996 (White and Bordas 1997). Papers arising from this work published in special issue of Agricultural Systems (Elsevier), vol 57(3), July1998. Specialist advice provided to DPIE and Rural Adjustment Scheme Advisory Council (RASAC) on Drought Exceptional Circumstances.

Period: starting date 1995-04; completion date: 1997-06

Status: completed

Keywords: indicators; drought assessment, drought policy; agronomic; simulation models, agricultural systems analysis; remote sensing; structural adjustment


Donnelly, J.R., Freer, M. and Moore, A.D. (1998). Using the GrassGro decision support tool to evaluate some objective criteria for the definition of exceptional drought. Agricultural Systems 57, 301-313.

Keating, B.A. and Meinke, H. (1998). Assessing exceptional drought with a cropping systems simulator: a case study for grain production in north-east Australia. Agricultural Systems 57, 315-332.

McVicar, T.R.. and Jupp, D.L.B. (1988). The current and potential operational uses of remote sensing to aid decisions on Drought Exceptional Circumstances in Australia: a review. Agricultural Systems 57, 399-468.

Ockerby, J., Proctor, W. and Corder, C. (1996). Economic criteria for Exceptional Circumstances declarations under the national drought policy. Report to the Bureau of Resource Sciences from the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics, ABARE Project Number 1287.

O'Meagher, B., du Pisani, L. and White, D.H. (1998). Evolution of drought policy and related science in Australia and South Africa. Agricultural Systems 57, 231-258.

O'Meagher, B., Stafford Smith, M. and White, D.H. (1999). Approaches to integrated drought risk management: Australia's national drought policy. In Drought (edited by D.A. Wilhite), Routledge, London (in press).

Stafford Smith, D.M. and McKeon, G.M. (1998). Assessing the historical frequency of drought events on grazing properties in Australian rangelands. Agricultural Systems 57, 271-299.

Stephens, D.J. (1998). Objective criteria for estimating the severity of drought in the wheat cropping areas of Australia. Agricultural Systems 57, 333-350.

White, D.H. (1996). Objective scientific and economic criteria for estimating the extent and severity of drought. Proceedings of the 2nd National Conference on Agrometeorology, 1-4 October 1996, University of Queensland, pp. 78-82.

White, D.H. (1997). Risk assessment and management: Case study - drought and risk. Proceedings of the National Outlook Conference: Commodity markets and resource management, 4-6 February 1997, Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics, Canberra, pp. 98-103.

White, D.H. and Bordas, V. (editors) (1997). Proceedings of a workshop on Indicators of Drought Exceptional Circumstances. Bureau of Resource Sciences, Canberra, 1 October 1996, 87 pp.

White, D.H. and Howden, S.M. (1997). Objective indicators for monitoring drought in grasslands. Proceedings of the XVIIIth International Grassland Congress, 4-6 June 1997, Winnipeg and Manitoba, Canada, Session 27, pp. 13-14.

White, D.H. and Karssies, L. (in press). Australia's National Drought Policy: aims, analyses and implementation. Water International. This paper was originally presented to the World Water Congress, 1-6 September 1997, Montreal, Canada.

White, D.H. and O'Meagher, B. (1997). Drought policy and drought intensity research in South Africa. Department of Primary Industries & Energy, Canberra.

White, D.H., Howden, S.M., Walcott, J.J. and Cannon, R.M. (1998). A framework for estimating the extent and severity of drought, based on a grazing system in south-eastern Australia. Agricultural Systems 57, 259-270.

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