Future on the line for Thyra growers

By Sophie Baldwin

Roz Berryman is worried about the future of irrigated agriculture.

She has watched the southern Riverina, which produces 40 per cent of Australia’s food, battle through a zero water allocation in 2018 and she very much fears this will continue into future years.

Roz, her husband Steve, and two sons Ross and Hugh have been farming at Thyra for generations; in fact, her sons are the sixth generation of the family to do so.

Roz believes the introduction of the Water Act in 2007 and the Murray-Darling Basin Plan a few years later is killing irrigation in rural Australia.

Their family business has always been a mix of first-cross ewes and cropping.

The loss of irrigation water has forced them into selling their entire flock because they can no longer grow pasture to support a March lambing program, and they no longer have security over irrigated cropping.

They have an up-to-date and efficient irrigation system and yet it remains idle.

Ross has been on the family farm for 12 years and believes the positive things in Australian agriculture are often overshadowed.

‘‘Improvements in technology and agronomy have seen our yields increase, especially over the last five years, and we are extremely water-efficient,’’ he said.

Irrigation makes up about 17 per cent of the Berryman land and, in a good year with 50 to 60 per cent NSW general security allocation, irrigated crops can produce about 40 per cent of their enterprise’s gross income.

‘‘As a farmer you expect to have drought years but what we are experiencing this year is beyond that and is a direct consequence of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan,’’ Ross said.

‘‘There is a lack of accountability amongst the bureaucrats who have been implementing the plan and they seem to want to save one environment downstream, while wrecking our own natural environment here and eroding the river system, flooding the bush and taking irrigation and food production away from us.

‘‘We need a review of what is happening. There needs to be accountability and studies into what is actually happening, and the impacts these decisions are having.

‘‘If a farmer wasted water like the MDBA (Murray-Darling Basin Authority) they wouldn’t survive too long; there really needs to be an independent look at what is happening.’’

Unable to pre-irrigate any crops, the family will be relying solely on rainfall to get them out of the ground this year.

‘‘This will definitely affect our yields and will be repeated across farms in the Riverina this year,’’ Roz said.

She said the loss of Australian-grown food was a tragedy and she feared if it continued into the future, people would be forced into eating imported food.

‘‘Our dairy industry is reaching the point of no return; where will our fresh milk, cheese and yoghurt come from?

‘‘The fact is so much water is wasted trying to force it through the river system and down to South Australia — water that could have been used by southern basin irrigators to grow food and support their families and local communities.’’

Roz is urging everyone to think about their vote in Saturday’s federal election.