What’s the hold up?

By Shelley Scoullar

Excitement has been brewing over the last few weeks as summer cropping, and for this part of the world rice planning is in full swing. Over the last week or so I have attended three meetings about the upcoming rice season.

The meetings were well attended and the appetite to grow rice was evident. This was a relief, as I intend to grow rice for a long time, but it will be very lonely and unprofitable if I am the only one.

And the farmers are not the only ones to benefit. The Deniliquin rice mill has doubled its number of employees over the last few months thanks to the large rice crop harvested this autumn. What happens when employment increases? Families move into the region, increasing school numbers, therefore the number of teachers, more is purchased from our supermarkets and butcher shops, clothing outlets and the list goes on. The flow on effect to our region is enormous.

The allocation announcement on September 1 for the Murray Valley was disappointing. Hume is at 89% capacity, Dartmouth at 82%, Lake Victoria at 79%, Lake Menindee 37.5% and we got an increase of 7%, taking the NSW Murray to 20% allocation.

Currently there is 10,000 ML for sale on the Murray Irrigation Exchange. Hopefully this will end up in the hands of producers in the region, but it can’t be certain. At $120 per ML maybe there are some who may want to buy water for canola or other cereals, or perhaps some is will be bought by dairy farmers. My concern is it will move out of the region to permanent plantings, such as nuts downstream.

Speaking to a young farmer last night, his concerns echo mine. Many young growers are at the mercy of the water market, because the Basin Plan has shrunk the availability of productive water and impacted the prices. Establishing a farm with permanent water is out of reach for new growers.

This young farmer wanted to know who is going to grow the staple foods; you can’t feed your family or third world countries on nuts. He was frustrated as older farmers are getting out of production and now expect over $100 per meg for their water, and not many can grow staples for that.

So, how do we increase production and job opportunities? We need a more stable water supply and increased allocations earlier in the season for planning. So, what is preventing greater increases in allocation?

Some will say carryover, but what about our commitment to South Australia? You see, when there is not enough water in the Darling water must come from the Murray to ensure that South Australia gets their minimum supply. Then there is the conservative manner in which allocations are modelled.

What all this means is that we have obvious flaws in the way productive water is allocated and distributed. This needs to be addressed if we are going to continue feeding our nation and the world.