Fighting for a future

By Sophie Baldwin

Darcy Hare doesn’t quite fit the typical stereotype of someone passionate about water and policy.

For a start he is only 27.

He has a young family and works full-time on the family farm.

He has also taken on the role of chair of Wakool Landholders, an advocacy group representing 285 landholders and irrigators, which meets with peak representative bodies including the Murray-Darling Basin Authority and other water-related government bodies.

Darcy jokes that aside from Wakool Landholders vice-chair Blair Flight, everyone else involved in policy is double his age.

‘‘No-one else my age appears to be involved. As a young bloke I don’t have time either, but I also don’t have time for the people that are selling my area down the river,’’ he said.

‘‘Policy makers don’t seem to be concerned about food and water security and there is potential for it to be a huge concern by 2050 — there is nobody looking toward securing the long-term future of food production and it worries me greatly.’’

When Darcy returned to the family farm in southern NSW three years ago to work alongside his parents Ann and Gary, he immediately noticed a change in what was once a thriving irrigation area.

In a good year their farm Westlee, at Moulamein, produces about 5000tonne of rice, 4000tonne of cereal, supports 700 steers and heifers and 800 fat lambs.

Irrigation plays a huge role in what the business can produce and this year that amounted to a paltry 420tonne of barley, 220tonne of wheat and they are hurtling towards zero tonnes of rice — figures well below the yearly average.

‘‘Anything that wasn’t pre-irrigated died. We just couldn’t justify the cost of temporary water versus grain price so we are looking at a very challenging year ahead,’’ Darcy said.

‘‘I am by no means an expert when it comes to water and water-related issues but one thing I do know is we can’t farm the way we want to any more and current water policy is having major impacts on us all.’’

Darcy believes the system is unfair, saying NSW and Victorian irrigators wear all the river losses while South Australia wears none, coupled with the fact SA’s allocation depends on legal requirements for supply, whereas a ‘‘much more sensible’’ rainfall-based system is adopted in NSW and Victoria.

Gary said his father started farming at Moulamein with a second-hand Chevy truck, £50 in his pocket and a herd of dairy cows. Two years later in 1952 the Hare family started growing rice.

‘‘At 53 I am still a long way off retiring but I have been able to have a bit of a go,’’ Gary said.

‘‘I feel really sad for Darcy that he won’t have at least had the same amount of opportunities I have had, over the years.

‘‘We have spread our risk across different commodities. We have juggled markets, soils, weather conditions, different varieties, chemical use — but when they take water away we are just cut off at the knees and we are nothing.’’

The Hares say the sad reality is irrigated agriculture and the thousands of tonnes of food it can produce in the southern Riverina are in jeopardy.

SunRice recently announced the axing of at least 100 jobs from the Deniliquin and Leeton mills because the 2019 rice crop was shaping up to be the second smallest recorded since the millennium drought in 2003, when 400000 tonnes of rice was delivered.

‘‘We grew rice from 1952 right through to 2002 without missing a season,’’ Darcy said.

‘‘The millennium drought, Murray-Darling Basin Plan buybacks, water sharing plans and the erosion of our water rights means rice is only an opportunity crop now.’’