The Mirror News

Our own weather station

THE district is to have its own weather station. An automated weather station to be built at Yanakie should make weather forecasts in the district more reliable and so assist local industries including farming, commercial fishing and tourism.

Farmers make decisions about animal health management, use of fertilizers, effluent capture and storage, fodder conservation, feed planning, paddock allocation, spraying of chemicals and purchase of irrigation based on weather forecasts. Reliable four to seven-day weather forecasts are a driver of productivity and profitability.

The Ellinbank Agricultural Research Centre with Gipps Dairy have concluded that the annual benefits to farmers in the district of reliable weather forests is $8,316,400 per annum in increased income, less loss of inputs and increased ability to manage risks associated with farming.

Tourism business operators are frustrated that potential visitors make decisions on the basis of unreliable forecasts and either do not come on days that are fine or do come and the weather turns bad.

Recreational boaters from the Latrobe Valley and Melbourne do not have reliable information on which to base their decisions about visiting Corner Inlet.

At its meeting last Wednesday, South Gippsland Shire Council endorsed the project, which is being funded by and through the Advancing Country Towns project, for which Council is the funds holder. The asset will be owned by Council, maintained by the Bureau of Meteorology and fully funded by Advancing Country Towns and partners.

The total cost of the project is $219,836, made up of installation and equipment $100,256, maintenance for 10 years $109,580 and administration costs of $10,000.

Maintenance costs for this 10-year period will be funded through the Advancing Country Towns projects. However, beyond this period liability for these costs will be subject to negotiations between the Bureau and Council.

Gipps Dairy has pledged a contribution to the maintenance costs.

Organisations not able to make a contribution but who remain supportive include Gipps Ports, West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority and Gardiner Foundation.

The project arose out of the Meeniyan and Stony Creek Community Plan and the Strengthening Small Dairy Communities Program funded in the Tarwin Valley by the Gardiner Foundation with the aim of strengthening this dairy community.

Community consultation suggested that weather forecasts for the district are not reliable. Farmers, commercial fishers, recreational boaters, camp managers, tourist operators and land managers currently make weather related business decisions based on adjusting the forecasts of the automated weather stations at Pound Creek or Yarram.

The district is a difficult area about which to make weather forecasts because of the influence of the Strzelecki Ranges, Corner Inlet and Wilsons Promontory. Reliable weather forecasts require an automated weather station much closer than Pound Creek or Yarram.

The weather station will measure weather data that will be available on the Bureau website updated every ten minutes. The data will include wind speed and direction at 10 metres above ground level and wind gusts; air temperature and calculation of apparent temperature; relative humidity and calculation of the dew point; air pressure; rainfall at 0.2mm increments. The website will record daily, 72 hourly and monthly weather records, including extremities.

The Bureau considered four options as a site for this facility – a site on Gipps Port land at Port Franklin, the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) airstrip inside Wilsons Promontory National Park, a site on private land at Fish Creek and the preferred option – an airstrip on private land at 3644 Meeniyan-Promontory Road, Yanakie.

The landowners are enthusiastic about the site being on their property and have agreed to a minimum annual lease.

Yanakie farmer Gwen Macqueen lives on an adjoining property. She is excited about the project and pleased that a site at Yanakie has been selected.

Mrs Macqueen milks 230 cows on 350 acres at Yanakie with husband Alan. She is hopeful that the more accurate weather information provided by the weather station will help in the battle against facial eczema in her cattle.

The disease can occur in dairy or beef cattle and also sheep, with devastating consequences. It occurred in several local herds, including the Macqueen’s, at the end of summer last year (February-March 2011). It was also widespread in other areas of Gippsland. Sixty-five of the Macqueen herd were affected by the disease, which is not necessarily fatal but can affect production for some time as it strikes the liver and this can take a while to recover – if at all.

Facial eczema arises mainly from a fungus in rye grass, a very common grass in Gippsland. A range of factors combine to make conditions favourable for the production of spores or ‘sporulation’. Humidity levels are very important as a predictor, as is temperature.

As a result of the facial eczema outbreak the summer before, a working party of experts was formed under the umbrella of Gipps Dairy and a handbook written: ‘A review of facial eczema.’

“We were one of several sentinel farms across Gippsland who sent in samples of our pasture collected weekly over three months. We sent them to the vet labs at Maffra for analysis of spore count in a project funded by Gipps Dairy,” said Mrs Macqueen.

Even though a proactive approach was taken to tackling the facial eczema problem, 44 of the cows in the Macqueen herd were still affected in the summer of 2012.

Prevention is the only cure for this miserable disease. Zinc can be administered – but only for 90 days. Then it becomes toxic. It is therefore vital that the most accurate weather measurements are taken to assess if conditions are favourable to sporulation.

The farmers of Yanakie and district are hopeful that the new automated weather station will be the answer they have been looking for.

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