Bittersweet farewell for Speak Up’s Shelley Scoullar

By Zoe McMaugh

Three years ago Shelley Scoullar was a virtually unknown Deniliquin farmer.

She loved growing rice and saw it as an opportunity to feed our nation and starving people throughout the world, not to mention creating jobs at the local rice mill and other agricultural and service businesses.

More than anything, she loved the fact her passion for farming could be combined with the country family life she enjoyed with husband Paul and their three sons.

But she saw dark clouds on the horizon. The introduction of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and what she considered was its appalling implementation was threatening her farming operation, just as it was threatening many others and regional communities.

Instead of sitting back and allowing this to happen, Mrs Scoullar started the Speak Up campaign and advocated strongly for commonsense solutions which could develop a plan that protected the environment and food production.

What she did not originally understand was that common sense and politics do not always go hand in hand. She was on a steep learning curve.

In her role as Speak Up chair Mrs Scoullar has met a whole host of politicians and bureaucrats and conducted many media interviews in the hope people would start to listen and understand.

Unfortunately, at the same time the plight of local farmers was becoming more desperate.

Now, she has made the heartbreaking decision she’d hoped she would never be faced with.

‘‘‘After lengthy discussions with family we have reluctantly decided to put our farms on the market. Paul and I returned to the district 12 years ago when the opportunity presented to buy the farm opposite my parents,’’ Mrs Scoullar said.

‘‘There have been many factors which have contributed to the decision. Obviously with government policy changes over the past seven years, in particular the way they are implementing the basin plan, it is becoming harder for farming — especially small family farms like ours.’’

Despite the decision to sell the farm, Mrs Scoullar will continue to push for agriculture and irrigators through Speak Up.

She said the decision to sell the farm was made in conjunction with her parents who will sell their neighbouring farm which has been in the family for more than four decades, as they move into retirement.

‘‘I still believe this region can have a prosperous future, but the current political climate is not supportive of farmers and producers of staple foods,’’ Mrs Scoullar said.

There have only been two seasons in the past 40 years when the family has not grown rice.

‘‘Selling the farms is not a decision we expected to face, but realistically if you don’t increase the farm size, the economy of scale to operate on your own doesn’t stack up.

‘‘There are so many opportunities for this region with great people at the forefront and behind the scenes fighting for those sensible solutions (to water policy). As a community we need to rally behind them and ensure that we get the opportunities we deserve.

‘‘Anyway, that’s my dream.’’