The autumn break for cropping in southeast Australia: trends, synoptic influences and impacts on wheat yield
Pook, MJ and Lisson, S and Risbey, J and Ummenhofer, C and McIntosh, PC and Rebbeck, M, The autumn break for cropping in southeast Australia: trends, synoptic influences and impacts on wheat yield, International Journal of Climatology, 29, (13) pp. 2012-2026. ISSN 0899-8418 (2009) [Refereed Article]
The autumn break is the first significant rainfall event of the winter growing season. Two definitions of the autumn break have been developed for northwestern Victoria; a so-called ideal break and a minimum rainfall condition for sowing a wheat crop termed a minimal break. Application of the ideal break definition for an eight-station average reveals that 41 autumn breaks occurred in the first half of the record (1889-1947) and 34 in the second half (1948-2006) with a trend towards breaks occurring later in the season. In the decade to 2006, there have been only 3 ideal breaks (1999, 2000 and 2005) and none of the selected rainfall stations has recorded an 'extreme' wet autumn over the last 11 years, the longest period recorded for this criterion. A synoptic analysis for the period 1956-2006 has established that breaks are predominantly associated with systems known as cutoff lows. The influence of these systems has varied markedly throughout the analysis period and only one autumn break has been caused by a cutoff low in the final decade of the analysis. Additionally, the total rainfall associated with cutoff lows in the April to June period has declined significantly over the past 30 years. A farming system model has been employed to simulate a wheat crop in northwestern Victoria under historical conditions for a range of management options. Average yield across all years of the simulation declines with delay in the sowing date after late April, but there is a marked interannual variability in yield response to the sowing date which is related to rainfall distribution in the growing season in each year. The simulated in-crop rainfall indicates that the most recent drought in southeastern Australia is comparable in severity with the two major droughts in the 20th Century.