Dry winter pushes water demand

By Alana Christensen

Dry conditions have caused irrigation orders to skyrocket as farmers try to salvage something from increasingly dry land.

The lack of rainfall has seen irrigators take full advantage of the start of the season, with order numbers 17 times higher than last year.

By 4pm on opening day this year (last Wednesday), a total of 918 irrigation orders had been lodged with Goulburn-Murray Water, up from 2017 which saw only 52 orders processed at season opening due to heavy August rains.

Drier conditions have increased demand across the regions, with broadacre cropping customers the largest customers.

For Strathmerton irrigator Phillip Ross-Soden, it’s a case of making the most of the conditions.

‘‘My thought process is that if you irrigate now and it rains later, then it just helps it along a bit,’’ he said.

‘‘You don’t know whether you’re doing the right thing.’’

Mr Ross-Soden said dry conditions had seen him reduce the size of his flock by a third, offloading 200 ewes in recent weeks.

With ewes flooding the market from up north, he said the drought conditions in NSW and Queensland had a depressing effect on his bottom line, with prices falling as much as $50 to $60 a head.

Currently irrigating more than 161ha, Mr Ross-Soden’s story is a familiar one across the region, with the Murray Valley irrigation area making up almost 40 per cent of irrigation orders.

Three-quarters of all orders lodged with G-MW have come from the Murray Valley and Torrumbarry regions.

Waaia dairy farmer Anthony Ciavarella said the drier conditions had forced him to begin irrigating up to a month earlier than planned.

‘‘The price of the water isn’t pleasant but you get your best bang for your buck at this time of year,’’ Mr Ciavarella said.

‘‘The dryland is suffering ... if we get rain in the next week to 10 or 14 days it’ll hang in there, but it’s very dry. We’re all battling away.’’

The Murray system has moved to 59 per cent of high-reliability water shares, while the Goulburn and Loddon systems have both received increases to 47 per cent.

The Campaspe system is still 100 per cent and the Bullarook system has lifted from zero to 19 per cent.

Murray Irrigation in NSW said the irrigation season had started with general security allocation at zero per cent.

Temporary water market results by Waterpool Co-op on August 15 put the Goulburn pool price at $300/Ml.

Northern Victoria resource manager Mark Bailey said there had been improvements in the volume of water available after rainfall in the past fortnight.

However, Dr Bailey said climate outlooks were favouring drier conditions with below-average rainfall across all of northern Victoria more likely from August to October.