A frank discussion with (then) Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has delivered a reality check regarding drought conditions in the Murray Irrigation region according to Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Gabrielle Coupland.
Speaking with Mr Turnbull on Friday, August 17, Mrs Coupland said the region currently found itself in a unique position of having crops in the ground with two possible outcomes likely.
‘‘With water, we finish crops for grain, bulk them out for hay or grow pastures — all of which can ease the pressure of the drought,’’ she said.
‘‘Without water, we can watch those crops fail and we become part of the drought problem.’’
Mrs Coupland said she spent time discussing with Mr Turnbull how people in the district had prepared for drought but how the continued dry meant that farmers had to look at contingencies.
‘‘I gave him a personal example about putting in 1.5km of fencing so we can start grazing off wheat and we’re working out which crops to irrigate with our small amount of water and which ones we might spray out — so I highlighted the tough decisions we’re making every day,’’ she said.
‘‘He heard us and he understands that the best thing he can do is identify a parcel of water for irrigators.’’
SRI has been working with environmental water holders, river operators, Federal and state governments and Murray Irrigation for more than a month to find a parcel of water for this region to access immediately.
SRI’s call for irrigators to receive access to more water comes after the Speak Up Campaign made a similar plea, calling for irrigators to receive access to environmental water to grow 1.5million bales of hay for drought-affected farmers.
‘‘We respectfully made requests of the CEWH and the MDBA and now we have escalated that into the political arena. We are not being prescriptive about the amount or the source of water as we don’t want to limit our options. There are no silver bullets in a season as challenging as this is,’’ Mrs Coupland said.
‘‘When the Prime Minister calls, you know the message is getting to the places where a difference can be made. We won’t stop. There are still crops, pastures and stock that can benefit from water in the next couple of weeks. Timeliness is critical and we will keep the pressure on to search for a solution.’’
Having also spoken to NSW Water Minister Niall Blair and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, Mrs Coupland said representations had also been made to Federal Water Minister David Littleproud.
‘‘There is no doubt there is an appetite to help as long as it can be done equitably and responsibly and we will continue to work with anyone we need to in order to find a workable solution,’’ she said.