Big isle drought persists

Drought lingered on the Big Island through another dry winter and is returning this summer to more deeply ravaged, already water-stressed places. These next five months aren’t expected to bring any real reprieve, especially for leeward areas, said Kevin Kodama, senior hydrologist for the National Weather Service.

Weather officials are predicting persistence and possible worsening of drought on the Big Island. Most of the island’s leeward sites had less than 50 percent of normal rainfall during the wet season, which typically runs October through April. Some areas that had slight improvement because of rain earlier this year are already intensifying again and not expecting to get better soon.

On the other hand, most of Big Island’s windward areas had 80 to 110 percent of the normal rainfall range during the wet season, which was ranked the 18th wettest season out of the last 30 years. In fact, the gauge at Hilo Airport received 79.65 inches.

The only exception to the latest prediction is the upland coffee belt, particularly in South Kona, which is unique in that more rainfall is typically observed in the summer than in winter, Kodama said. One theory for this is the onshore sea breeze is more persistent, ascending the mountain slopes, to interact with descending trade winds through the saddle, producing local showers usually in the late afternoon. Meanwhile, the rest of the Hawaiian Island chain generally experiences a dry season, running from now through September.

La Niña conditions, which typically last about nine to 12 months, were primarily to blame for the drier than normal wet season. La Niña is defined as cooler than normal sea-surface temperatures in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean that impact global weather patterns.

Australia faces the end of Big Dry

Phew! What a scorcher that was.

Australians call it the Big Dry and, after nine parched years, it’s over.

It’s the drought that has afflicted large areas of this vast country and now the federal government is about to declare it officially at an end.

The final two areas to be given the all-clear are Bundarra and Eurobodalla in the south-eastern state of New South Wales.

In practical terms, it means that the last of special subsidies to farmers are being withdrawn.

It’s the end of “Exceptional Circumstances”, or EC, to use the bureaucratic jargon.

“The seasonal outlook is brighter than it has been for many years and the improved conditions are a welcome reprieve for farmers across Australia,” said Joe Ludwig, Australia’s agriculture minister.

He said the end of the drought would be a “a major milestone for agriculture in Australia”.

Since 2001, the government has provided 4.5bn Australian dollars ($4.7bn, £2.9bn) in EC assistance.

That’s the money handed out to struggling farmers, totalling between 400 and 600 dollars each, every fortnight.
‘Baffling’

Some farmers say the move to take away the EC assistance is premature.

The National Farmers Federation said the government’s “snap decision” to cut subsidies was “baffling”.

Farmers, ranchers brace for dry times

Rainfall levels in Upcountry areas are below normal this year, and there’s a bleak outlook for rain for ranchers and farmers as the islands head into the normally dry summer months, a hydrologist said Thursday.

“We’re headed out of our wet season. The outlook is not too good,” said Kevin Kodama, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service on Oahu.

From January through March, Kula received 5.5 inches of rain. Normally, it gets around 8.7 inches, Kodama said. Pukalani received 4 inches in the same time period while it normally gets around 16 inches. Ulupalakua received a little under 5 inches, and it usually gets about 10.

“We’re in really bad shape,” said Sumner Erdman, president of Ulupalakua Ranch. “The economic impacts have already hit.”

Erdman said this will be the fourth year his ranch has been impacted by dry conditions.

The economic losses amount in the “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he said.

The ranch has had to sell cattle. It now also sees cattle with lower weights because less rain means cows have less grass to feed on. The ranch also has lower reproduction rates because there are fewer cows to breed, Erdman said.

Over four years, the number of breeding cows has gone from 2,300 to 1,500, as the ranch sells them off to deal with the drought conditions, Erdman said.

The ranch currently has 3,800 head of cattle, with preparations under way to sell more, he said.

Warren Watanabe, executive director of the Maui County Farm Bureau, said the dry weather trend seems to follow the long-term prediction of scientists.

Because areas of extreme drought in Hawaii have increased in the past few months, with the hardest hit being the pasture areas on the Big Island, Maui and portions of Molokai, the farm bureau’s priority during this legislative session has been to fund drought mitigation projects.

Report: Water shortages increasingly will offer weapon for states, terror groups

By Karen DeYoung, Thursday, March 22, 4:19 AM

Fresh-water shortages and more droughts and floods will increase the likelihood that water will be used as a weapon between states or to further terrorist aims in key strategic areas, including the Middle East, South Asia and North Africa, a U.S. intelligence assessment released Thursday says.

Although “water-related state conflict” is unlikely in the next 10 years, the assessment says, continued shortages after that might begin to affect U.S. national security interests.

The assessment is drawn from a classified National Intelligence Estimate distributed to policy-makers in October. Although the unclassified version does not mention problems in specific countries, it describes “strategically important water basins” tied to rivers in several regions. These include the Nile, which runs through 10 countries in central and northeastern Africa before traveling through Egypt into the Mediterranean Sea; the Tigris-Euphrates in Turkey, Syria and Iraq; the Jordan, long the subject of dispute among Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians; and the Indus, whose catchment area includes Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Tibet.

“As water problems become more acute, the likelihood … is that states will use them as leverage,”

Drought will push up price of food, farmers warn

Farmers in drought-stricken areas of the country are facing crucial decisions in the next few days and weeks over what to grow this year – and their plans could mean rising food prices for hard-pressed consumers this summer.

Most of the south-east of England was officially declared to be in drought last week, and large swaths of the Midlands and south of England were confirmed as “at risk”, with hosepipe bans and other restrictions likely to be introduced soon.

Farmers are particularly at risk as the spring growing period approaches. Soil moisture in the key agricultural region of East Anglia has reached a record low, and many farmers have had their licences to take water from rivers and underground sources curbed. Some key crops – such as potatoes, carrots, onions and lettuce – require much more water than alternatives, and farmers must sow the seeds for many of these staples within days or weeks.

Those who fear that the drought will reduce yields or render some crops unviable will be forced to cancel their seed orders now and put plans in place for alternatives. Richard Solari, who farms 1,200 acres in east Shropshire, said: “People have got to make decisions now, immediately, and a lot of farms are making decisions not to grow potatoes, onions and carrots because they are worried that there is not going to be enough water.”

Very little sweet news for sugar producers|Nation|chinadaily.com.cn

LINCANG, Yunnan – “I can’t expect any profit this year and I don’t know what to do next year,” said Li Xiuzhong, a 65-year-old sugarcane farmer in Lincang, Southwest China’s Yunnan province.

“We have 180 hectares of sugarcane last year and actually the beginning of the growing season was good due to sufficient rainfall,” he said. “But after June, things got worse so quickly and now there is no harvest in 30 hectares.”

His expectations have also dropped from five tons of crops for each hectare to three tons.

“These are already the best drought-resistant seeds and I have ploughed another 40 hectares for next year, hoping to earn more money,” he said. “But now, I have lost confidence in growing them under current weather conditions.”

He said he had grown sugarcane for more than 20 years and this year is the worst in terms of weather.

He is living on income from previous years.

Lincang used to be covered with thick forests and has rich water resources, but since the 2010 drought, its water conservation facilities have been under threat and agricultural production has been challenged.

Lincang’s sugar and tea industries are two pillars of its economy. Sixty percent of sugarcane crops were affected by the weather in 2010 and there was a conspicuous reduction of total production.

Ganhua Company is a major sugar factory in Yunxian county, and is experiencing a hard time with this year’s harvest.

According to Wei Xuehua, general director of the company, the scarcity of water has handed the company, as well as sugarcane farmers and delivery drivers, a total loss of 19 million yuan ($3 million) so far.

In addition, rats have also severely affected the production of sugarcane in the region as water can only be found in the plants.

HC&S profits offset Matson, property losses

Alexander & Baldwin Inc.’s agricultural sector – led by Maui’s Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. – produced a “strong performance” in 2011 while losses related to Matson Navigation Co. and the real estate sales division put a drag on company profits.

In reporting its 2011 and fourth-quarter financial results Monday, the Honolulu-based company said it logged a net income of $34.2 million, or 81 cents a share, for the year, down 63 percent from the $92.1 million, or $2.22 a share, in 2010 and down nearly 75 percent from the $132 million, or $3.19 a share, in 2008, as the Great Recession began roiling the national economy.

For the fourth quarter, A&B’s net income was only $1.6 million, or 4 cents a share, down from $20.2 million, or 48 cents a share, in the same quarter the previous year.

The company’s ocean transportation sector showed an operating profit of $74.1 million for the year, down from $118.7 million in 2010. This sector of the company suffered losses from the discontinuing of its second China-Long Beach service in the third quarter.

In addition, A&B said that the company continues to make progress on plans to separate its shipping and real estate/agricultural businesses in the second half of this year.

The agricultural sector, which includes HC&S and trucking and storage companies on Maui, Kauai and the Big Island, showed an operating profit of $22.2 million in 2011, up 264 percent from $6.1 million in 2010. This is a big contrast from three years ago, when agriculture lost $27 million and the board of directors debated shutting down sugar operations.

Dry again: drought back to stalk farmers

FOR bull breeder Tim Vincent it is a bitter irony that his beloved country can change from drought to flooding rains, and back again, in just a few short months.

His family’s 850ha property outside Gunnedah in northern NSW was like a “little bit of paradise” after last season’s early rains. Today its ragged hills and plains are thick with parched grass, the nutritional value of cardboard, he said.

Mr Vincent, who shares the property with his wife Margaret, their two children and his now-retired parents, has been hand-feeding most of the family’s 450 prime cattle for months.

“I didn’t expect, after we had fences washed out and cattle all over the road in December, that it would change back so quickly,” he said. “Spring is our growing season, but I can tell you there’s not much growing happening here now.”

Mrs Vincent agreed: “Everyone thought we would have at least one or two good years.” Rainfall gauges in nearby Gunnedah recorded barely 250mm in the year to date, compared with an annual average of more than 600mm.

The Bureau of Meteorology puts the chance of making up the difference between now and summer at perhaps 25 per cent.

Even though most dams in the area are almost full, an ugly ochre patch on the NSW Department of Primary Industries agricultural conditions map for last month marks drought in central-northern NSW. Parts of three districts were drought-declared last month, and five more downgraded from satisfactory to marginal.

A spokesman for NSW Primary Industries Minister Katrina Hodgkinson said she was aware small pockets of the state had slipped into drought. “The minister has noted that there are small portions of NSW that have not received the rain that everywhere else has. But in a state as big as NSW you won’t get a good season (for) everyone.”

Wild donkeys to be taken from Hawaii to California

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Aug 6, 2011
Wild donkeys to be taken from Hawaii to California

HONOLULU – IN AN effort to control Hawaii’s wild donkey population, about 100 of them are being taken to California.

KITV reports the Humane Society of the United States is planning to remove the donkeys on a chartered plane next month.

Hawaii Humane Society state director Inga Gibson says they will go to animal sanctuaries.

Drought conditions led the donkeys from the highlands into a populated area in search of water. Donkeys were appearing near the highway and a school.

The Humane Society and a local veterinarian have been trapping and sterilising the animals. At the end of the month, a clinic is to be set up at a ranch to castrate captured male donkeys.

Ms Gibson says donors are to help with costs of the chartered flight. — AP

Wild donkeys to be taken from Hawaii to California