Farmers desperate for water

By Country News

‘‘If nothing changes family farms are going to disappear; people will really start to struggle.’’

That’s the harsh reality being faced by 16-year-old Hayley Doohan and her father Bart, who have extreme concerns about what might happen to their operation in the next 12 months.

The Finley organic dairy farmers are just one example of food producers in the southern Riverina hurt by the drought and impacted by the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Because the price of feed for their cows is too high, the Doohans have been forced to sell a large portion of their livestock.

‘‘We don’t have the normal feed we would have during summer months so we’ll be trying to buy as much as possible,’’ Hayley said.

‘‘We’ve reduced our dry stock as well as our milking herd because we don’t have the feed.

‘‘We can’t easily get our hands on feed at an affordable price.

‘‘Because no-one (in this region) is able to get water they are not able to produce hay or grain, so if they can’t do it how are we supposed to get the supplies we need?’’

Hayley loves the local community and fears it won’t be long before the suffering will become too much.

‘‘Who knows what’s going to happen?’’ she said.

‘‘Local communities are going to soon become very small because there’s nothing to keep families here.

‘‘It’s really hard because you’ve grown up with fellow farmers.

‘‘It’s not just families which you’re close to in a small rural community; it’s your neighbours, your friends.

‘‘They help you get through difficult times and when they start leaving you have to look for a new support system; you build relationships in small communities.

‘‘I think they (government) just expect you to survive; they set legislation you have to follow and meet but don’t have that support to help you meet those standards they set.

‘‘It’s disheartening with the Murray River at its present height. It’s there and so close but we can’t use any of the water.

‘‘It’s just like they’re taking the cake without sharing it.’’

The Year 11 Finley High School student said it was hard to find the motivation to join the agriculture industry.

‘‘It’s not a great selling point,’’ Hayley said.

‘‘Some people are encouraging us to look elsewhere for jobs in different industries and have a wider view on what we can do and what’s best for our future because things are getting harder.

‘‘They want us to have a future in something that makes us happy.

‘‘Farming is my life; I’ve grown up in farming and without it I wouldn’t be who I am.

‘‘This is a great place to grow up; I love being part of the farming community.

‘‘I hope to have a few degrees at uni. I might not necessarily come back to the farm, but definitely want to be in the agriculture industry if there is a future there.’’

The Doohan family moved to the southern Riverina 16 years ago after working as dairy farmers in the Tablelands region in north Queensland.

Mr Doohan said by producing organic milk he was doing what the government encouraged him to do — but the government was not returning the favour.

‘‘We came to the area because there was opportunity with water and the land, as this area can grow just about anything,’’ he said.

‘‘But without the water we just can’t do it. I keep asking the kids, ‘is there going to be a future here for us?’.

‘‘That’s the biggest problem. No-one can tell us if we have a future here or not.

‘‘So we have to encourage the kids to follow their passion, but your passion might not be here.’’

Mr Doohan said when the region had water it was the perfect place to grow food.

‘‘The cows perform and that’s why we went organic; for example, we produce our own compost to help the environment,’’ he said.

‘‘We get no help from the government to do these things, we’ve done it off our own back.

‘‘They’re pushing us towards more natural organic farming but there’s no incentive.

‘‘We’re trying to teach our kids that even though we’re irrigators we still have to look after the country.

‘‘Now the government has taken the water from us, it’s stopping us from doing the things we need to look after the environment.

‘‘When we irrigate we have birdlife around the place; there’s nothing here at the moment.’’

—James Bennett