Australia swelters after record hot 2013; farmers slaughter cattle, bushfire warning

SYDNEY Fri Jan 3, 2014 5:39am EST

Related Video

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A searing heatwave is baking central and northern Australia, piling more misery on drought-hit cattle farmers who have been slaughtering livestock as Australia sweltered through the hottest year on record in 2013.

Temperatures have topped 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit)in large parts of Australia's key agricultural regions for most of the past week, with the mercury topping 48 degrees Celsius in the central west Queensland town of Birdsville.

The heatwave is moving east across Australia, prompting health warnings on Friday in some of the country's biggest cities and firefighters were already battling bushfires.

But it is in the outback that soaring temperatures have had the most devastating impact, especially on cattle farmers in Queensland, which accounts for about 50 percent on the national herd.

"Water supplies are fast diminishing and whatever feed supplies that were left are cooking off to the point where there won't be any left," said Charles Burke, a beef farmer and chief executive of Agforce, a Queensland cattle industry group.

"This drought is shaping to be an absolute disaster."

Monsoon rains in Australia's north failed last summer and the entire continent endured its hottest year since records began in 1910, the Bureau of Meteorology said on Friday.

Average temperatures were 1.2 degree Celsius above the long-term average of 21.8 degree Celsius, breaking the previous record set in 2005.

"The new record high calendar year temperature averaged across Australia is remarkable because it occurred not in an El NiƱo year, but a normal year," David Karoly, a climate scientist from the School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne, said in an emailed statement.

The El Nino weather pattern is a warming of ocean surface temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific and usually brings hot, dry, and often drought conditions to Australia.


In the remote town of Marree, 700 kms (435 miles) north of Adelaide in South Australia, one resident tested the folklore that you can fry an egg on the road during an outback heatwave.

"You hear stories of people frying an egg on a shovel, so we set up a shovel this morning out the front and sure enough we've got an egg there that's slowly frying away," publican Phil Turner told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

"So yep, we fried an egg on a shovel."

Faced with such tough conditions, farmers are being forced to slaughter more cattle in the current 2013/14 season.

Australia's cattle herd will fall to 25 million head during the 2013/14 season, the lowest since the 2009/10 season, due to increased slaughtering, the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics and Sciences said.

"Even the flies are sticking close to the house ... thanks to the air-conditioner coming out the windows," said Jo Fogarty from Lucy Creek cattle station in the Northern Territory.

"(We are) leaving sprinklers on for the dogs and birds at the moment. We are quite lucky we have got a good supply of water at the homestead," Fogarty told local media.

Australia is the world's third largest beef exporter, with sales during the 2013/14 season tipped to reach A$5.4 billion ($4.82 billion).

Should Australian farmers continue to send cattle to slaughter due to the heatwave, future exports could fall as farmers eventually rebuild stocks when conditions improve.

The soaring temperatures have also renewed focus on climate change policy in Australia under the new government.

While Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said he accepts the reality of climate change, he abolished the country's Climate Change Commission in September, and rejected any link that global warming was responsible for a series of bushfires across New South Wales state in October.

One of Abbott's major policies is to overturn the previous government's carbon tax, which was aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to tackle climate change.

"On the science perspective, which is the basis for taking action, you're getting very very mixed messages from this government," Will Steffen, an adjunct professor at The Australian National University, said in an interview.

"I think the first challenge needs to be absolutely clear and consistent messaging from this new government that they understand the science, they accept the science, they accept the risk and they accept the lead to take vigorous and decisive action in getting emissions down."

(Editing by Michael Perry)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see
Comments (5)
auger wrote:
Epiphany – many Argentinians would agree that the temperature has exceeded anything livable

Jan 04, 2014 7:57pm EST  --  Report as abuse
onlyif wrote:
Australia emits less than 2% global co2 emissions. Even if we were to emit not one more tonne of co2 it would make…. no difference to the challenges ahead.

And please spare us with the climate changed caused the bush fires. A sign of the end times, ay?

Jan 05, 2014 10:28pm EST  --  Report as abuse
agwisreal wrote:
No single country contributes enough to atmospheric co2 increases to be able to do much of anything about the problem alone.

If China (today’s biggest emitter) were to zero out her co2 emissions, the problem would not disappear. China accounts for somewhere around 20 or 25 percent of world emissions. The US is close in second place. The EU, even as a whole, is no more than 25 percent.

No single nation or economic consortium can save money by stemming global warming. Even the biggest country’s share of the rewards will not match her costs if she goes it alone.

Together, it’s another story. This is a perfect example of the ‘tragedy of the commons’ dilemma. We have to work together on this.

Jan 06, 2014 9:40am EST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.


California's historic drought

With reservoirs at record lows, California is in the midst of the worst drought in decades.  Slideshow