Australia Weather News

Weather insurers have seen a spike in interest since La Niña was declared active by the Bureau of Meteorology, with grain growers looking to protect their best winter harvest in years.

Harvest is underway in New South Wales, Queensland, and Western Australia — all states that have endured years of drought conditions, plunging many farmers' finances into the red.

Rural lender Rabobank said Australia's "long-awaited grain production recovery is here".

Its latest forecast is that the nation will produce about 47.4 million tonnes of winter grains, oilseeds, and pulses this year.

Growers want to protect that, or their income, at least.

"[Farmers ask] 'if I don't get the crop out of the ground, can I be compensated?' And these days, yes, you can," said Jonathan Barratt, managing director of weather insurer Celsius Pro.

"If you do get excess rain over harvest you can lose between 30 and 50 per cent of your income.

"It has nothing to do with you and the way you farm, it has to do with what mother nature has thrown at you.

"Given the metrics of the last couple of seasons, it's critical that farmers get the crop off the paddock and they get it with maximum amount of profits."

Mr Barratt said his business focused on weather impacts, differing from multi-peril crop insurance.

"On the dry side, the last three years, we've seen significant growth [in insurance]," he said.

"Just recently, just over the last month, farmers have been concerned about the amount of product or grain they've got in the ground, and it actually is of significant value."

Gamble against another gamble

WA farmer Ben Ball fears floods could ruin his hay season and has invested in insurance for his crop at Wagin, south-east of Perth.

"If there's more than say, 25 millimetres of rain in Wagin, we'll get paid out a certain amount per millimetre above that to a cap of say 75 millimetres, and I know roughly how much that weather event would cost me," he said.

Mr Ball said weather patterns have always been a challenge for farmers, but this mitigates some risks.

"It just allows you to make a strategy, maybe at the start of the season, and take on a little bit of risk in a particular area, growing a particular crop that you normally would assess as too risky," he said.

"It allows you to make money in that way and mitigate your weather risk.

"It's purely a gamble on the weather against another gamble."

Bespoke options

Mr Barratt said similar to tailored car insurance, bespoke options are available to growers depending on crop type, soil type, and a range of other contributing factors.

"For instance with wheat, we know it's the second day of rain greater than 20mm or several days of 5-10 mms which will cause the downgrade," he said.

"If we've got chickpeas, for instance, we know it's one great big event. So we can tailor the cover that the farmer requires for the particular crop.

"[They] spend six months growing it and then it's not up to them that they get rain on their farm at harvest. So to be able to hedge that is critical for the sustainability of the income for the grower."