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Major flooding in south-east Australia threatens wine production

A “major emergency” has been declared by Southern Australia’s premier as floods hit New South Wales and Victoria, with warnings that more significant flooding is likely to follow.

Credit: Twitter/ Bureau of Meteorology, Australia

Flooding was already underway in south-east Australia last week, per reports, with “major flooding” occurring in New South Wales and along rivers in Victoria.

Now, Australian news outlets are reporting that Southern Australia’s premier, Peter Malinauskas, has officially declared the situation a “major emergency” as floodwaters in the Murray River reach dangerous levels.

“What we have seen in recent days is yet more rainfall in the eastern seaboard in critical catchments areas, combined with a substantial release of water from the Hume Dam,” Malinauskas said.

“Those two things combined mean we now face a genuine possibility of another peak to the river flow.”

The implication is stark for the growing season.

“We’ve had no access to our vineyards for two weeks now, and I assume downy mildew will be running riot,” winemaker Jen Pfeiffer told Decanter.

“I’m preparing myself for a scenario where we don’t harvest a single grape this summer, but at least we had a couple of days warning the floods were coming and were able to save infrastructure such as irrigation pumps by getting it to higher ground.”

Authorities are warning that it could be months before the flooding comes to an end. “We are expecting to see the impacts of flooding for weeks, even months to come as this water makes its way downstream across several river catchments,” assistant commissioner Sean Kearns said, per The Guardian.

Federal emergency management minister, Murray Watt, told reporters:

“We’re seeing very big impacts on everything from wheat and barley crops … through to sheep and the dairy industry … and that’s inevitably going to have an impact on the national economy”.

A spokesperson for Wine Australia told the drinks business:

“There has been flooding through parts of South-Eastern Australia this year, and this is a situation that is continuing to evolve. River systems are now slowly moving the additional water out to sea and communities along these rivers are preparing for higher-water levels, but the pressure is expected to continue for some time.

“Many wine regions around Australia have not been impacted directly by flooding. However, for those in the most affected regions the impacts to infrastructure could be significant. Our thoughts are with the communities and businesses most impacted.

“It is still too early to say with certainty what the impacts on the entire Australian vintage 2023 will be. Additional water may increase the vigour of the vines, but it can be harder to get tractors into vineyards to manage increased pressures of mildew and fungus.

“In the way of the grape and wine community, people are coming together to provide information and support to help those impacted. Government packages are available to impacted communities and producers; and workshops, information and advice has been developed to help growers and winemakers manage waterlogged soils, mildew and other rain-caused pressures. It will be a challenging season for some, but many are proactively working together to ameliorate the pressures where possible.”

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