El Niño parches Asia Pacific, destroying crops and drying up…

A father with his children walk over the cracked soil of a dried up fishery at the Novaleta town in Cavite province, south of Manila. REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco

El Niño parches Asia Pacific, destroying crops and
drying up water sources
By Alisa Tang/Reuters Today at 8:05 a.m.
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BANGKOK – Severe El Niño-linked drought has destroyed crops, killed farm animals and dried up water sources across East Asia and the Pacific, aid workers said, and UNICEF appealed for $62 million to assist children impacted by various crises in the region.

Humanitarian agencies are monitoring and responding to droughts and food insecurity in an area from Indonesia and the Philippines, southeast to Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands.

"El Niño is peaking at the moment, and we expect the impacts to come up after the peak," said Krishna Krishnamurthy, a regional climate risk analyst for the World Food Programme.

Krishnamurthy visited East Timor earlier this month and saw areas that were parched even though their rainy season was supposed to have started in November.

"Rivers are completely dry in several parts of the country," he said, noting some hard-hit areas were deceptively green.

"I saw green paddy fields, but it’s not rice – it’s weeds and grass. It’s difficult to monitor remotely (from satellite images). That’s why the post-harvest assessment will be quite critical."

The El Niño phenomenon, occurring every few years and caused by unusual warming of the Pacific Ocean, triggers heavy rains and floods in South America and dry, scorching weather in Asia and East Africa, and usually lasts about one year.

UNICEF launched a $62 million appeal on Tuesday to help children affected by drought, conflict and other crises, focusing on areas such as nutrition, health, water and sanitation.

UNICEF has called for $25 million for its work in conflict-affected Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states in Myanmar; $18 million for North Korea; $10 million for conflict-affected Mindanao province in the Philippines; and $5 million for Pacific Island countries.

Here are updates on El Niño and drought from across the region.

EAST TIMOR

The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries reported 50 percent less rainfall than normal. In southern Viqueque district, farm animals are falling sick and dying due to lack of feed and dwindling water supplies, though there has been some rain since Jan. 15 which may alleviate the situation, it said.

PHILIPPINES

On Mindanao island, lack of rain has damaged more than 500 hectares of farmland in Zamboanga city, with rice, corn, vegetables and bananas "lost with no chance of recovery", according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In North Cotabato, also on Mindanao, authorities declared a state of calamity because of $5 million of damage to crops, OCHA said, adding that 85 percent of the country was forecast to face drought by April.

PAPUA NEW GUINEA

An estimated 2.7 million people – more than a third of the population – are affected by a combination of drought and frost, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said, adding that priority needs are food, water and agricultural recovery.

An IOM survey last month found 85 percent of communities assessed in Enga, Simbu and Jiwaka provinces rely on unprotected water sources, and 47 percent of respondents had a household member who had diarrhea within four weeks of the survey.

PACIFIC ISLANDS

Drought warnings or alerts are in force for Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, Vanuatu and Palau, according to UNICEF, which said more frequent and intense storms are expected in 2016, with Pacific islands suffering the most.

School attendance rates have dropped in the Pacific Islands, where children are hungry and dehydrated, and face a high risk of malnutrition due to crop failure, water shortages and poor sanitation, UNICEF said.

NORTH KOREA

Severe drought in four agricultural provinces in 2015 has led to smaller harvests and reduced access to clean water, impacting the health of women and children, UNICEF said.

In drought-hit provinces, 25,000 children are suffering severe acute malnutrition and require immediate treatment, and there has been a 72 percent increase in diarrhea among children under 5, it said.

[Catergory Weather, Asia, Thailand]

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Crops withstand weather extremes | capitalpress.com

The weather in California so far this summer has been a study in extremes, though most crops seem to be taking the fluctuations in stride.

A brief heat wave in early June gave way to milder temperatures and then a four-day rainstorm June 23-27 that would have been impressive even in February. The system dumped as much as 8 inches of rain in parts of Shasta County, said Jim Mathews, the National Weather Service’s lead forecaster here.

Now the summer heat has returned, with afternoon highs in the northern Sacramento Valley expected to remain in triple digits through most of July, according to AccuWeather’s long-range forecasts.

“It looks like we’re in for a prolonged heat wave,” Mathews said, noting that temperatures were expected to peak at 106 in Sacramento and 108 in Redding.

The federal Climate Prediction Center anticipates the summer will be warmer than normal throughout the West, where drought conditions are expected to persist. Precipitation is expected to be below normal in the Pacific Northwest and far Northern California, according to the agency.

The conditions come after low pressure over the northeastern Pacific Ocean produced a soaker that set records for this time of year in some areas. The 0.11 inches that fell at the Sacramento airport on June 25 was enough for a record for the date, Mathews said. Shasta Dam recorded more than 3 inches from June 23-26, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokeswoman Sheri Harral said.

“Basically we are operating everything as normal,” Harral said, adding the storm didn’t prompt additional releases from Shasta Lake. The lake was at 80 percent of average storage for this time of year as of June 28.

Crops have withstood the conditions. For instance, the rain was a benefit for olive trees, providing “a little refreshment to knock the dust off the trees,” said Adin Hester, president of the Olive Growers Council of California in Visalia.

Not enough rain fell in the Central Coast region to bother strawberries, said Chris Christian, vice president of marketing for the California Strawberry Commission in Watsonville.

“No one was expecting any real impact from it,” she said. “Now that we have unseasonably warm weather, we expect that production will pick up here quite quickly.”

Likewise, the heat could hasten development of nut crops, said Joe Connell, a University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Chico.

“With almonds being used to a hot, dry climate, it probably will advance hull split, and it could accelerate pest populations,” Connell said. “As long as the growers irrigate well … we think we can handle the heat.”

2012-2013 rainfall totals

Here are the June and seasonal rainfall totals and comparisons to normal for selected California cities, according to the National Weather Service. The season ends June 30.

Redding: Month 1.58 inches (normal 0.67 inches); season 28.46 inches (normal 34.6 inches)

Eureka: Month 0.43 inches (normal 0.72 inches); season 32.31 inches (normal 40.3 inches)

Sacramento: Month 0.22 inches (normal 0.21 inches); season 15.2 inches (normal 18.52 inches)

Modesto: Month 0.07 inches (normal 0.12 inches); season 9.09 inches (normal 13.11 inches)

Salinas: Month 0.04 inches (normal 0.09 inches); season 8.97 inches (normal 12.83 inches)

Fresno: Month, trace inches (normal 0.21 inches); season 5.67 inches (normal 11.5 inches)

Reservoir levels

Here are the percentages of capacity for California reservoirs and comparisons to their seasonal averages as of midnight June 27, according to the Department of Water Resources California Data Exchange Center:

Trinity Lake: 75 percent of capacity; 86 percent of average

Shasta Lake: 66 percent; 80 percent

Lake Oroville: 73 percent; 88 percent

New Bullards Bar Reservoir: 77 percent; 89 percent

Folsom Lake: 69 percent; 81 percent

New Melones Reservoir: 52 percent; 83 percent

Millerton Lake: 78 percent; 98 percent

Pine Flat Reservoir: 37 percent; 53 percent

Lake Isabella: 16 percent; 29 percent

San Luis Reservoir: 22 percent; 32 percent

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California Central Valley Shrivels Amid Dry Conditions – WSJ.com

HURON, Calif.—Two years of dry weather and regulatory water cuts are taking a mounting toll on California’s giant farm belt, forcing farmers to idle more fields and workers even as much of the rest of the Golden State continues to recover from a debilitating recession.

As they did last year after a dry winter forced state and federal water managers to cut their allotments, farmers here in the Central Valley again this year are letting fields go fallow after being advised they would receive as little as 20% of their contracted supplies of water from the mountains of Northern California.

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Matt Black for The Wall Street Journal

Salvador Juarez picks onions in California’s Central Valley town of Huron, where fields and workers are being idled because of dry conditions.

At Harris Farms off Interstate 5, executives say they have opted to fallow 3,037 of their 14,000 local acres this year, compared with 2,600 in 2012, and plan to triple that to 9,236 acres next year. In so doing, the big farm expects to shed all but 500 to 1,000 of its 4,000 seasonal workers by next year, executives of the farm say.

David Wood, chairman of the company’s beef division, warned the economic fallout rippling across the sprawling valley is likely to worsen next year, as farmers have to make planting decisions for 2014 based on water cuts scheduled to extend at least until early next year.

“This year will be tough, but next year could be catastrophic,” Mr. Wood said. The production cutbacks aren’t expected to affect U.S. food prices much, because other growing areas such as Mexico can fill in the gap.

Exact estimates on acreage cutbacks throughout the valley, where much of the state’s $40 billion-a-year agriculture industry is based, haven’t yet been tallied, but farming officials expect them to be substantial. The amount of land used to plant cotton, for example, will shrink 24% this year to 280,000 acres from 367,000 acres in 2012, off from a five-year peak of 456,000 in 2011, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates.

Officials of the 614,000-acre Westlands Water District, where Harris Farms is situated, say many of its farmers plan to fallow fields this year after the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in March cut water allotments in their district to 20% of its normal amount. In 2012, the agency had cut the allotment to 40% from 80% in 2011, which was the last wet year in a state that frequently undergoes drought.

California’s mountain snowpack was 52% of its normal average April 1, when it is typically at its peak, compared with 55% the same time in 2012 and 165% in 2011, according to surveys by the California Department of Water Resources.

The slowdown comes as the Central Valley, one of the hardest-hit parts of California during the recession, has been regaining its footing. The unemployment rate in Fresno County, for instance, fell to 11.8% in May from 14.9% a year earlier, according to Labor Department estimates. California as a whole has been recovering, with unemployment falling to 8.6% in May from 10.7% a year earlier. The U.S. unemployment rate was 7.6% in May.

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But with estimates of as many as seven jobs dependent on each one on the farm, business leaders here worry the economic recovery in the Central Valley will fizzle out, especially in towns wholly dependent on agriculture. Here in Huron, a town of 7,000 about 50 miles southwest of Fresno, businesses already report a falloff in sales this year.

“Water equals money here,” said Ron McIlroy, owner of McIlroy Equipment, an agricultural manufacturer that has seen sales fall 30% this year from the same time in 2012.

In Huron, even workers still in the fields are tightening their belts. On a recent break from hoeing in a melon field, 40-year-old Marta Patricio of Huron said that while she works 60 hours a week, she expects her hours to be sharply reduced soon. “I’m worried because I have to be able to work to sustain myself and my family,” said Ms. Patricio, a single mother of three.

That sentiment is hurting small-business owners like Ahmed Alarami, who estimates sales at his Buford Star Mart gas and convenience store in Huron have fallen 45% so far this year compared with last. As a result, he recently closed an in-store deli that had employed three workers, leaving only himself and one employee to run the rest of the business. “I’m thinking next year it will be even worse,” Mr. Alarami said.

Farmers blame the water shortages on a system they say exacerbates the impact of periodic dry spells, such as when flows are shut off in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta because of federal restrictions to protect species such as the endangered smelt.

Gov. Jerry Brown is backing a plan to overhaul the system by building twin diversionary tunnels, but it faces an uncertain outcome amid a flurry of lawsuits recently filed against it by opponents including farmers and environmentalists.

For now, farmers are making do the best they can. On his family’s 3,600-acre farm near here, Dan Errotabere recently drove his truck past some of the 600 acres of fields he is letting go fallow this year—almost twice as much as last year. He said that is forcing the farm to use half its normal level of 80 seasonal workers for tomatoes and other crops.

“This system,” Mr. Errotabere said, “does not work without water.”

Write to Jim Carlton at jim.carlton

A version of this article appeared June 27, 2013, on page A3 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: California Farm Belt Shrivels.

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Drought not dampening U.S. milk production

USDA’s April report pegged U.S. milk production at 17.27 billion pounds, up 0.2. percent over a year ago despite a drought that was expected to curb production.

“The drought was supposed to complicate everything and reduce production. It didn’t happen,” said Jerry Dryer, chief market analyst for Rice Dairy, a Chicago brokerage house.

Dairymen seem to keep increasing production, despite drought, tight forage supplies and high feed costs, he said.

“They just keep making more milk,” he said.

Production was down in some western states, but production in the Midwest took up the slack, and production in the West is recovering.

Milk prices have been pretty good, with Class III over $18 per hundredweight and Class IV over $19 per hundredweight. The downside is feed prices are higher than usual, he said.

Good milk prices are likely due to good demand for dairy products. Food service and retail sales have been very good, with food services sale in April posting the best month ever seen, he said.

Exports of dairy products haven’t matched the torrid pace seen earlier but they’re still good and expected to get better. Milk production is down in most of the rest of the world, and while U.S. inventories of dairy products are huge, the EU and Oceana have very little inventory, Dryer said.

That will have international customers coming to the U.S. for product, and exports should be strong in the third quarter, he said.

Right now, however, U.S. inventories are overwhelming. Demand has been good, but such large inventories in the past would have had cheese and butter trading at $1.20 to $1.30 a pound. Cheese is currently trading at about $1.70 a pound, and butter is trading at about $1.50 a pound. And milk prices are above the five-year average, he said.

“We’re operating in a different world,” he said.

Robin Schmahl, commodity broker and owner of AgDairy LLC, Elkhart Lake, Wis., said he expects things to stay sideways and choppy in the cash markets in the near term and doesn’t see anything to spur substantial purchases by end-users.

There’s been pretty good movement in inventories of dairy products but if milk production remains steady and more product is added to inventories, there’ll need to be good demand to support prices, he said.

Even though manufacturers have been steadily shipping overseas, they still have large stocks, and that could mean lower milk prices later in the year. Especially if USDA’s projection of 2 billion bushels of carry-out corn proves true.

High corn stocks could lower corn prices to $4 a bushel. Lower feed costs are not going to curb milk production and would instead lead to lower milk prices, he said.

Class III milk is trading at about $18.50 per hundredweight, which is not a bad price and not likely to move much. If USDA’s May Class III price in federal orders is $18.50, it’ll be the highest Class III price since September of last year.

Class III futures are trading in the $18 range through November, and prices have been in the high $16 to $18.50 range since September. But they could go lower with a good corn crop and building corn stocks, he said.

“It doesn’t seem like the (corn) market is going to be too tight,” he said.

World demand for dairy products has been good, with buyers coming into the market to buy cheese despite a bump up in prices. Powder and whey supplies are tightening, but that’s not going to have a large impact this year, he said.

Overall, he thinks world demand is going to be steady, he said.

Drought at Southern and Eastern Oregon

Officials say irrigators along the South Umpqua River could face restrictions on water supplies as early as this month.

Flows in the river are expected to be below average or well below average this summer, the Roseburg News-Review reported.

The South Umpqua is a tributary of the Umpqua River that relies mainly on rainfall and often runs low in the summer, but restrictions in low-water years typically don’t kick in until August.

The North Umpqua tributary benefits from snowmelt at higher elevations.

Low snowfall and an early melt across the state have raised concern about irrigation supplies.

In the Klamath Basin, a drought has been declared, and some irrigators are facing potential water cutoffs.

In Eastern Oregon, the Vale and Warmsprings irrigation districts, which usually operate independently, said this week they would plan together so they could better conserve water for the summer.

The state’s two U.S. senators have called on the U.S. Agriculture Department to allow emergency grazing of cattle on federal lands in much of the southeastern part of Oregon.

In the Umpqua Basin, rainfall so far this year has also been below overage.

“Anything that shows up in the rain bucket would look good right now, but we’re way behind the curve,” said Dave Williams, watermaster for Douglas County.

Over the past 40 years, the earliest that water rights in the South Umpqua watershed were cut off was on June 20, 1974, on a tributary. The area has seen three July shutoffs in those decades.

“There’s no doubt we’re going to see some effects from low stream levels,” said Tim Bare, manager of the K-Bar Ranches operated by the Umpqua Indian Development Corp. “It’s really hard to know exactly what’s going to happen.”

B. regards

Felix (Kyung) Seo