Basin plan is ‘destroying’ farms and towns

By Sophie Baldwin

When Chris Brooks retired to work on the family cropping farm at Barooga in NSW, he thought life was going to be pretty simple.

He had a 2500ha farm, great infrastructure including 23 centre pivots, 5000Ml of NSW water, a reliable irrigation system and the ability to produce more than 15000 tonnes of fodder annually.

On paper it sounds perfect; in reality it is far from it.

Mr Brooks’ farm is currently sitting on a zero water allocation.

He has had no green feed since July.

He has watched his farm’s potential wither and die along with his crops.

And he knows, along with many other Southern Riverina irrigators, he is facing a tough 12 months ahead.

‘‘My sheep need feeding and there is nothing,’’ Mr Brooks said.

‘‘The fodder I could have produced if I had a water allocation has gone and instead of being part of the solution, I am now one of the many farmers on the look out for feed to keep my animals alive.’’

He said it was heartbreaking to watch a flooded river flow past and see dam storages sitting at 70 per cent while he sits on a zero allocation.

‘‘In the old days this would have meant an allocation for us — our forefathers didn’t build these assets to watch our water be taken away from agriculture and sent out to sea in South Australia.’’

Mr Brooks has become so disillusioned and angered by what he says is the mismanagement of one of the country’s most precious resources — water — he has decided to stand up and fight for his business, his community and agriculture in Australia.

He is the new chair of Southern Riverina Irrigators.

Mr Brooks said he was seeing first-hand the devastating effects of the implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

He said some country towns had lost an estimated 70 per cent of their agricultural-related jobs and population had declined by 46 per cent.

‘‘Farmers are reaching crisis point as their businesses face another year with little or no income — this plan is destroying our local communities as income leaves our rural towns.’’

Mr Brooks said when he needed a part for some machinery he used to travel 20 minutes down the road to Berrigan or Cobram. Now he has to travel much further afield to Shepparton or Wagga, because smaller businesses were closing up.

‘‘It is not just farmers who are impacted by the plan, it is the entire community.

‘‘Our small businesses rely on productive farmers who then spend their money in town or employ contractors and mechanics.

‘‘This then directly impacts other facets, like kids in schools, teachers, sporting clubs, doctors — and the effect flows on.’’

Under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, 2750Gl of water has been taken away from productive agriculture and the Murray-Darling Basin Authority is now on the hunt to secure the remaining 450Gl of water.

People like Mr Brooks are extremely concerned that another 450Gl leaving the water pool will sound the death knell for the region.

Mr Brooks is supplied water by Murray Irrigation Ltd, which services 1650 growers across 750000ha who own a collective 800000Ml of water.

Murray Irrigation is a fixed-cost system and once water leaves it becomes more expensive for those left behind.

‘‘When water starts to leave the system, the costs are passed on to those remaining and water delivery become more expensive — the fixed costs are distributed across a smaller group of irrigators,’’ Mr Brooks said.

‘‘This is also being experienced in the GMID (Goulburn Murray Irrigation District).’’

Mr Brooks recently attended a Murray-Darling Basin Water Infrastructure Program public meeting in Echuca, which he claimed was basically just a water grab.

‘‘Going ahead with the on-farm efficiency program goes against the promise of recovering the 450Gl without adverse impacts to community wellbeing,’’ he said.

‘‘The Federal Government is playing around with words and taking advantage of people under stress.

‘‘The productive bucket of water cannot take any more hits.

‘‘Our region is experiencing one of the driest years on record, our dairy industry is on its knees and farmers are doing it tough — for many, selling water is the only option left to them and the government know this and that is why they are in our region at this time.’’

Mr Brooks said it was time the community came together and took the fight to Canberra.

‘‘Regardless of which party our government officials stand for, they need to know they work for us, we elect them.

‘‘It’s a catastrophe to see our beautiful, rich farming land, our crops shrivel and die, while water continues to flow out to sea down the other end of the system.’’