Farmer fears for food security

By Sophie Baldwin

Where will our food come from in the future?

If there is no competition on imports from Australian farmers, what is going to keep the price of food down in the future?

Those are the questions mixed farmer Alastair Starritt from Womboota (about 35km north of Echuca) is asking.

He believes food security is an emerging issue for Australian consumers as productive irrigation land is sacrificed due to the implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

‘‘The Riverina has taken a fair haircut conservatively of at least a 75 per cent loss in potential production because we have returned to dryland farming — something consumers don’t really understand the implications of,’’ Mr Starritt said.

He said the reduction of food production in Australia would affect the price consumers paid for food in the future, not to mention the quality.

‘‘No competition in the market will come at a price.

‘‘It will change markets and dynamics and the principles of food supply and food security here in our country and our regional economies will suffer, jobs will be lost, and services will move away.’’

Mr Starritt said a zero water allocation in a year when water storages were full showed the government prioritised the environmental demands of South Australia’s Lower Lakes over food and fibre production.

‘‘Our area has really suffered this season. We could all understand if it was a true drought, but the water was there in storage, we just couldn’t access it.

‘‘The irrigation system was set up by our forefathers to take out the ups and downs of dry seasons so regional areas can share in economic prosperity.’’

The Starritts run a livestock and cropping enterprise, producing lamb, beef and wool and growing oilseeds, cereals and some legumes.

They are heavily reliant on irrigation.

‘‘We purchased water this year at an extraordinary price just so we could have our ewes lamb on green grass,’’ Mr Starritt said.

‘‘They couldn’t drop on bare ground with nothing for their mums to eat.

‘‘The economics of purchasing water to do this certainly didn’t stack up but it was more about a welfare issue than anything else.’’

He said farming in this manner was not sustainable.

‘‘You can only farm for so long when the returns don’t stack up before your business collapses.’’

Mr Starritt is joining a long line of people calling for a pause to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

‘‘Since its inception there have been no thorough reviews, they seem to just charge on regardless of their impact.

‘‘People say a new plan would be worse but this one has been pretty bad, and no-one appears to be happy; not the farmers, the environment, the indigenous community — this alone should be a catalyst for a review.

‘‘I use the analogy if your car develops a rattle and there is no investigation or assessment the whole thing can fall apart — and the car is certainly rattling under the MDBP.’’