Industry’s future questioned

By Country News

Australian farmers are being treated like second-class citizens according to a fourth generation farmer, who says the nation has become a laughing stock due to poorly researched water reform.

Moama cropping farmer Peter McCallum said he remembered asking his father why they were farmers, considering how risky the industry was.

‘‘I remember clearly what Dad said, telling me we are farmers because it is good for our population to have healthy food and we export large amounts to other nations, which benefits all Australians. He told me it is an honourable profession,’’ Mr McCallum said.

But he said this had been flipped on its head since the Murray-Darling Basin Plan was conceived, and he felt those who put the healthy food on dining tables of Australian households were now treated as second-class citizens.

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

‘‘It also gave us the opportunity to work with two neighbouring farms with indigenous owners which enabled them to become rice growers.

‘‘In the end we employed three workers, two of them indigenous; it was a great period of our lives.

‘‘As the basin plan took hold we noticed the 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 said.

He said the ‘‘soul-destroying’’ decision to sell the family farm was eventually made, and his two sons were encouraged to find work off-farm and now had other careers.

Mr McCallum said there were many organisations and groups that claimed to have the best interests of Australia at heart, but local problems needed local solutions that the basin plan did not account for.

‘‘During my time (on a community consultation panel) with the CMA I spoke extensively with indigenous elders in the local area, along with very experienced timber cutters.

‘‘And I can unequivocally say that after growing up in the region and working with the community, over-watering of forests to encourage flora and fauna regeneration is having incredibly harmful effects.’’

He said the concept of adding frequent unseasonal water to any forested site would encourage unseasonal growth, with potentially shocking long-term effects.

‘‘A much more effective approach is to add more water in a high rainfall year to encourage the growth.

‘‘A drought year like this should not see water added to the forest as it will encourage new growth, making areas inaccessible, increasing fire risk, using up available seed stocks and it can be harmful to old trees.’’

Mr McCallum said if things did not change soon he was ‘‘really worried’’ about the future of irrigated agriculture in the region and believed it was up to our leaders to make change to protect it.