FACTBOX-Australian drought hits farmers hard

Mon Oct 29, 2007 8:05am EDT


SYDNEY, Oct 29 (Reuters) - Australia, already the world's driest inhabited continent, is gripped by its worst drought in 100 years which has decimated crops and created a crisis among its farming community.

Following are some facts about Australia's drought:

* DROUGHT:

- Triggered by an El Nino weather condition, drought first hit in 2002, appeared to break in 2003, returned in 2006, appeared to break in early 2007, but returned again in August. Australia had its driest September this year since records began in 1900.

- The eastern state of New South Wales is 78.6 percent in drought. The southern state of Victoria has declared 100 percent of farmland in drought.

*GROWTH/FARM OUTPUT:

- Australia is the second-largest wheat, canola and beef exporter in the world and the largest barley exporter.

- Australian farms and related sectors generate production worth A$103 billion a year, or 12 percent of GDP. Annual farm exports amount to around A$30 billion in a normal year.

- The government has said that the drought slashed Australia's GDP growth by 0.75 percentage points in the year to June 30, 2007.

- Drought cut the 2006/07 wheat crop to 9.8 million tonnes from 25.0 million tonnes the year before. Forecasts for the current wheat crop are 15 million tonnes or less, down from 26 million tonnes earlier this year before the drought hit. *FARM NUMBERS/DEBT:

- The number of Australian farms has declined by 25 percent over the last 20 years to 129,934, due to falling commodity prices, mechanisation, technology and a strong trend of younger people moving to cities. About 99 percent of farms are family-owned.

- Average farm income dropped to A$26,000 in the year to June 30, 2007, its lowest level in over 30 years, because of drought. A total of 77 percent of farms operated at a loss in 2006/07.

- Average farm debt rose to A$412,700 at June 30, 2007, from A$357,380 the year before, bureau figures show. Farmers say debt has now risen into the millions for many.






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