flooded queensland farm

What La Niña Means For Northern Cattle Farmers

The northern parts of Australia provide some of the most challenging weather conditions for farmers to profitably operate their farms. In a normal year, flash flooding, cyclones, extreme winds and high temperatures are a normal occurrence. Although every few years, an abnormal weather system occurs called La Niña, which brings higher rains to Australia and much of Asia, and drought to the west coast of America.

Farmers must accommodate for such weather patterns in their farm’s operation to minimise weather damage and ensure continual profitability. La Niña can adversely affect yields within Australia due to fluctuating rainfall and changing average temperatures. The increased rainfall in Australia from La Niña has already seen positive pasture yields during winter.


What is La Niña?

La Niña is part of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the changing wind and ocean surface temperatures surrounding the Pacific Ocean. La Niña is the cooling phase in this weather cycle in which trade winds push warmer seas towards the east coast of Australia and therefore increase rainfall.

These weather conditions see the east coast of Australia with lower average temperatures, higher rainfall, and increased risk of cyclones. While the La Niña weather system is a pattern most farmers are used to, it still brings many adverse effects in which farmers need to prepare for.


Affecting Cattle Prices

La Niña in Australia has seen higher than normal rainfall across much of Queensland. Flash flooding and excessive rains make sales yards unusable, preventing cattle from being sold and therefore driving cattle prices up. The Eastern Young Cattle Indicator (EYCI) indicates cattle prices across a range of livestock within the NSW, Victorian and Queensland markets. The EYCI on the 1st of December was 1111.53 cents, which is up 48 cents from four weeks ago, and 321 cents above the price 12 months ago. These changing prices allow those who are selling to yield higher profits and outprice many low-end entrants in the market.


Extreme Weather

Extreme weather from La Niña has a lasting effect on the profitability of a farm. Flash flooding, excessive rains and cyclones will dramatically affect pasture levels and the ability to rotate cattle through paddocks, making much of the land farmers need to manage cattle unusable. High amounts of flash flooding can also damage pasture beyond recovery, meaning the amount of usable land on a farm will decrease as areas are destroyed.

Beyond this, La Niña also brings an increased number of cyclones as trade winds push warmer air into Australia. These cyclones can be extremely damaging to farmers as there are minimal ways to prevent damage from a cyclone. Such events can result in unfarmable land and cattle being injured beyond recovery.


Higher Rains

The higher rains that La Niña brings in can be positive and negative news, depending on the amount. It has been observed that pasture yields can dramatically increase in some areas during La Niña with a moderate increase in rainfall. On the contrary, areas become washed out with too much rain and cannot successfully grow pasture. The rains in NSW over November were a true testimony of the effects of La Niña, which saw NSW record its wettest November in 121 years.

Increased rain over long periods can have adverse effects on the health of cattle. For cows to maintain a healthy digestive system, they need ample dry feed and grain. If the ground is wet for too long, cattle will be more prone to illness and worms.


Develop Farms Designed For Extreme Weather

While a La Niña event doesn’t bear positive news, there are many measures farmers can take to prepare their farms and minimise the effects of the system.

  1. Develop Suitable Dry Storage

With increased rainfall, farmers must develop enough dry storage facilities and ensure they aren’t prone to flooding. Dry feed needs to be protected against weather systems to ensure cattle have access to dry food to combat the increased risk of disease during wet seasons.

Since La Niña brings with it increased extreme weather, the quality of your dry storage plays an important role in the profitability and functionality of your farm through the season. When designing your steel sheds, it’s important to consider the many variables which affect their longevity, such as choice of materials and strategic location.

  1. Build Drainage

La Niña weather systems commonly bring an increased risk of flash flooding and high rainfalls, meaning water run off areas play an important role in the accessibility of critical farming infrastructure. Building adequate drainage helps navigate water towards rivers, out of valleys, and away from roads, thereby ensuring your farm can still be managed through extreme weather.

  1. Develop Essentially Infrastructure On High Ground

Farmers have to process cattle, successfully wean calves, and help maintain a healthy herd using a cattle yard. If cattle yards are positioned in places prone to flooding, farmers may be unable to process and maintain a healthy herd. Failing to have access to a cattle yard can see increased disease amongst herds and unprofitable operation.


While La Niña is a regular event in Australia, it still presents farmers with challenges that make it difficult to maintain a profitable farm. There are many measures farmers can take to minimise the effects of the phenomenon upon their farms. Farmers must carefully consider the hundreds of design elements that go into cattle handling equipment to ensure farms are built to withstand severe weather. If your farm is looking for a way to better prepare for the effects of La Niña through developing/upgrading farm infrastructure, speak to the team at Steel Supplies Charters Towers today.