Horticulture

Area may become ‘dust bowl’

By Country News

Peter McCallum can trace the farming family gene back to Devon in England.

And it continued after the family migrated to Australia.

The family has turned its hand to most aspects of agriculture during the generations including cropping, hay, rice and it has even milked cows.

Mr McCallum said at the peak of a decade of growing rice outside of Moama, he produced more than 2000 tonnes annually on 285ha.

He grew rice on land he owned and leased in conjunction with the indigenous community at Cummergunja, employing two to three workers.

It was a rewarding and fulfilling time.

‘‘I loved growing rice. It is one of the most ecologically friendly crops because it created wetlands for wildlife and birds while producing a global cereal,’’ Mr McCallum said.

The introduction of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan has effectively killed this part of his business (along with many others farmers), and forced him to sell his rice farm.

‘‘I fear irrigation is just going to die across the Riverina region all because of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan,’’ he said.

‘‘The 10-year period prior to the basin plan was the most productive in our careers.

‘‘As it took hold, we noticed opening allocations were becoming smaller every year, despite substantial amounts of water in the dams.

‘‘Our pathetic allocations have led to insecurity in our water ownership.

‘‘Unfortunately it has pushed us out of rice growing, which we loved, and now we are questioning irrigation altogether.’’

Mr McCallum’s business had the ability to grow thousands of tonnes of fodder annually, whether it was rice, cereal, crops or hay.

‘‘If you look at it this way my farm has the potential to produce 65 semi loads of grain, I need 30 to cover my costs — this year I got three.

‘‘We can’t farm without irrigation. Our annual rainfall over the growing season is 250mm, the last two years it has been around 130mm and you certainly can’t grow a crop with that.’’

Mr McCallum also believes carryover water is a major issue and the latter must be linked to primary production.

‘‘If you aren’t a primary producer you shouldn’t be allowed to carry water over.

‘‘There is no storage left in our dams and this is contributing to the slow death of irrigation.’’

Mr McCallum said the once-productive region he grew up in was now a vastly different one.

‘‘I can remember when irrigation was a common sight and the district was a field of green, now it is rare to see any green paddocks and at $500/Ml, this is not surprising.

‘‘The day they unbundled water was the worst day for farming in Australia — politically motivated just to get votes in South Australia.

‘‘Investors purchase water and sell it back at inflated prices and agriculture just can’t compete.

‘‘It has killed a once vital and productive area that is now in serious danger of becoming another Australian dust bowl.’’