SYDNEY (AFP) — Australia's wine grape harvest next year could be cut by more than half by the worst drought in a century, industry groups said Monday.
The vintage is expected to be between 800,000 tonnes and 1.3 million tonnes, down from an average of around 1.9 million tonnes, according to a forecast by an industry taskforce.
"As the season progresses, we will be able to refine our forecasts," said Wine Grape Growers Australia executive director Mark McKenzie.
"However, we know for certain that yields will be down dramatically in those regions relying heavily on irrigation water from the Murray Darling."
The Murray-Darling Basin is Australia's key food growing area, accounting for more than 41 percent of the gross value of agricultural production.
McKenzie said between 800 and 1,000 of the nation's wine grape growers were at risk of going out of business.
"They're broke," he said. "They don't have the capacity to buy water and they are at serious risk because their ability to borrow has peaked."
Prime Minister John Howard last week described the situation in the Murray-Darling Basin as "a genuine crisis," saying the drought could kill off the region's orchards and vineyards.
Australian wine exports pulled in a record three billion dollars (2.58 billion US) in the 12 months to July.
Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation figures also showed that over the same period, the volume of wine exported exceeded 800 million litres (176 million gallons) for the first time.
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