Doubt and flooding rains: how an unusual El Niño has affected Australian farmers

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Unpredictable weather patterns have made farmers cautious, with drought still on horizon despite record summer rainfalls

Prices are up at the first sheep sale of the year in Cowra, with livestock looking markedly happier after heavy rains. The region received more than 80mm of rain in the first 11 days of January, nearing the record monthly total. It’s slowing the march towards drought across the New South Wales central tablelands.

As heavy clouds roll over the saleyard, good quality lambs are selling for up to $240 a head – more than $100 more than they were last month before the rains arrived. In the last sales of 2023, poor-quality lambs were selling for as low as $11 each. It was a loss some farmers were prepared to bear, in light of the declaration of an El Niño climate pattern and the growing number of local government areas declared drought-affected. No one wanted to be caught out.

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