A new report soon to be released by Monash University academics has found that northern Victorian dairy farmers are under stress caused by change and uncertainty relating to water policy.
The first findings of the research into social impacts of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan are expected to be released in a short report next month.
The report paints a picture of highly stressed farmers frustrated with changes to water policy and struggling to pay for rising water prices.
Researcher Josephine Clarke told a Shepparton seminar last week farmers were struggling with health and wellbeing issues while trying to manage sequential and multiple changes.
Dr Clarke said they were under continuous pressure to adapt to the changing environment.
She said the farmers, interviewed between 2014 and 2015, were coping with multiple uncertainties, particularly with water reform.
The researchers also remarked on the added pressure of irrigators dealing with uncertainty over the Goulburn-Murray Water Connections project which is upgrading water infrastructure.
‘‘There was fear that they would take your water away and shut you down,’’ one interviewed farmer remarked.
Many of the interviews were conducted while the price of temporary water was escalating.
The research project is titled ‘Social sustainability in dairying communities impacted by the Murray-Darling Basin Plan’.
It is being conducted in partnership with the Geoffrey Gardiner Foundation and is supported by an Australia Research Council Linkage Project grant.
The three-year research project started in 2014 and is due to be completed in June.
Using one-to-one interviews and focus groups in dairy communities, the project is examining social sustainability and identifying social supports to enhance positive adaptation and individual and community resilience in the Murray-Darling Basin.
Dr Clarke was addressing a summit organised by Murray Dairy last Wednesday and designed to help develop a strategic plan for the organisation.
The report will be provided to the government and public policy makers involved in the water industry.
Meanwhile, Riverina irrigators, worried about the implications of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, have given three One Nation senators a tour of the region.
The tour included Shepparton, Tocumwal and Deniliquin.
Hanson told about water woes
Southern Riverina irrigators are recruiting support from cross-bench senators to win their arguments over water policy and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.
The irrigator body, Southern Riverina Irrigators, conducted a three-day bus tour of northern Victoria, the Southern Riverina and the Murray Mouth near Goolwa in South Australia on May 2, 3 and 4.
Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Graeme Pyle said they hoped the information gathering tour would enlighten the senators, who will be able to question the Murray-Darling Basin Authority in Senate estimates.
Controversial One Nation leader Pauline Hanson and two of her Senate team, Malcolm Roberts and Brian Burston, were on the bus tour which visited Shepparton, Tocumwal and Deniliquin to find out more about irrigation water and the basin plan.
Mr Pyle said the senators were guests at a meeting hosted by Greater Shepparton City Council and attended by representatives from Goulburn-Murray Water on Tuesday, May 2.
The bus tour, which included the senators’ advisers, also visited Plunkett’s orchard in Ardmona, which packs and exports fruit, to discuss the impact of water policy.
After Shepparton, the group visited Tocumwal to discuss the high speed inland rail route and its implications for grain growers and the impact of last year’s Murray River flooding.
The group then visited Deniliquin where it met representatives of the irrigation body, Murray Irrigation Ltd, and also heard about state-based conservation and forestry issues.
The tour visited Mildura and Renmark on the way to Goolwa, where it inspected the Coorong and the Murray Mouth.
Mr Pyle said he was not a follower of the One Nation party, but had invited federal cross-benchers to examine water issues in the region, and the One Nation senators were the only ones to show up.
‘‘We want irrigation issues front and centre in the parliament,’’ Mr Pyle said.
‘‘We asked every cross-bencher to come, and One Nation jumped at it.’’
He said he was becoming frustrated with major parties and their lack of knowledge about water issues.
‘‘If you asked about flow dilutions, the Coorong barges, salinity and environmental water being traded they don’t have a clue.’’
Irrigators are particularly concerned about the 450Gl of ‘up-water’ the basin plan proposes to take from agriculture for the environment.
Mr Pyle said it was made abundantly clear to the senators that the removal of the water would have a devastating effect on rural communities.
The irrigators are also challenging the idea that high environmental flows are required in the Murray River to keep the Murray Mouth open and to keep the lower lakes fresh.