August 6, 2018 / 5:01 AM / 2 months ago

Australian east coast rains bring some relief to drought-hit farmers

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s east coast received some respite from drought on Monday after the heaviest showers in weeks, but analysts warned any relief would be temporary without heavier rains.

A lone tree stands near a water trough in a drought-effected paddock on Jimmie and May McKeown's property located on the outskirts of the town of Walgett, in New South Wales, Australia. REUTERS/David Gray

Nearly half of the state of New South Wales - one of country’s biggest agricultural producing regions - received around 10 mm of rain early on Monday, data from Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology showed.

The showers are a welcome boost for farmers and graziers in the state, 99 percent of which is in drought. Much of New South Wales received just 10 mm over the whole of July.

“Any rain is good rain. It will encourage a bit of pasture growth for livestock producers but without follow-up showers, the impact will be temporary,” said Phin Ziebell, an agribusiness economist at the National Australia Bank.

Short-range weather forecasts show no further showers for at least five days.

Australia’s agricultural production is set to shrink after New South Wales received less than 20 percent of typical rainfall over the past three months.

Australia’s wheat crop is expected to fall to a decade low this season, the country’s chief commodity forecaster said in June, but warned it could fall further without rains.

With the country’s agricultural industry warning of widespread bankruptcies as a result of the drought, Australia’s government on Sunday said it would provide A$190 million ($140 million) in payments to farmers and to support mental health initiatives and community groups.

The country’s peak rural advocacy group, the National Farmers Federation welcomed the package that will cover up to 50 percent of the full cost of transporting fodder and water for stock and taking livestock to pasture, slaughter or sale.

However, some farmers said a cap of A$20,000 per farm business was inadequate.

“In the last quarter we spent A$40,000 on transport bills so we have already reached the capped limit,” said Gavin Moore, a dairy farmer in Glenmore, 79 km (49 miles) south west of Sydney.

Reporting by Colin Packham; editing by Richard Pullin

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