SYDNEY Australia needs several years of above average rain to end a drought that has devastated crops in three of the last six years, according to the latest report by the Bureau of Meterology.
The bureau said in its monthly drought statement on Monday that despite recent heavy rains over eastern Australia's main cropping lands, the drought was far from over, and had intensified in the outback.
"Several years of above average rainfall are required to remove the very long-term (water) deficits," said the bureau.
"The combination of record heat and widespread drought during the past five to 10 years over large parts of southern and eastern Australia is without historical precedent and is, at least partly, a result of climate change."
Australia's drought began to ease in late 2007 and in the first two months of 2008, leading private and government forecasters to predict a record or near-record wheat crop of 26-27 million tonnes in 2008/09, up from 13 million tonnes the year before.
However, dry weather has returned in the past two months.
Western Australian wheat growers have received enough rain to begin to plant their next crop, but farmers in eastern growing areas are still waiting for planting rain.
The bureau said that long and short-term rain deficiencies were persisting. A dry April meant the drought intensified in central Australia and long-term or two-year rainfall deficiencies had increased in most parts of Australia, except the southwest corner.
The bureau cited the main cropping lands of southeast Queensland, Victoria and western New South Wales as suffering long-term rain deficits.
"One exception was southwest WA (Western Australia) which had a wetter April this year so the 24-month deficits eased somewhat," it said of Australia's main wheat lands.
(Reporting by Michael Perry and Michael Byrnes)