Devastating impacts on rice and dairy industries detailed in Deni | Online farm
More than 200 jobs have been lost in the Southern Riverina rice industry amid record harvests.
The president of the Australian Rice Farmers Association, Robert Massina, testified on the availability of water to a Senate committee, with rice production falling from 623,000 tonnes to less than 10% in 2019 and 2020.
As the harvest was restored with the rain, the impact was clear.
“Ultimately, over the past two years with the lack of water availability … the water market is pushed up to $ 500, $ 600 per mega-liter – It becomes unsustainable to grow rice, ”he said.
RGA policy director Rachel Kelly said with two dams in Murrumbidgee now at 80% after above-average rainfall, there should be a process for irrigators to take more than 100% of allowances.
“We would like irrigators to be able to access some of these excess water flows,” she said.
“The water use of the South Basin is well below the water use limits… we have this situation where we have this huge deficit right now.
“(We are proposing) a set of rules for these two valleys to increase our water use up to our water use limits.”
Ms Kelly said such regulations would come into effect if there were underutilization against sustainable diversion limits and if irrigators could ensure postponement of storage.
“If we get past the SDLs, they would effectively go out,” she said.
The impacts on the dairy industry were also studied.
Farmers participating in buyouts as a “means of survival” after the millennium drought have received false promises of market reliability, senators heard.
Lachlan Marshall, dairy farmer for Blighty and chair of the Speak Up 4 Water campaign, said water buybacks in exchange for on-farm efficiency projects were essential at the time.
“It was seen as a mode of survival because people had bank managers on their doorstep,” he said.
“Yes, there are people who chose to capitalize financially … but there is a large portion of us who were not willing sellers.
“We did it to survive and were told that there would be no impact on us and our … ability to access the temporary market.”
“The exact opposite has happened … fair market access and reliability have gone out the window.”
Mr Marshall said the number of farms in his area has grown from 90 to around 20.
“You would expect to see the newspaper industry recover (after the rain) … it doesn’t,” he said.
“What this tells me is that even though the weather and feeding conditions following the drought are more favorable, there is no confidence … they have left the industry.”
Speak up 4 Shelley Scoullar of Water said two years ago Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged to act, but acknowledged immediate changes would be difficult ahead of the election.
Mr Marshall said the feeling was that “the votes in South Australia were important”.
Ms Scoullar said that “we must withdraw politics from water management”.
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The story of the devastating impacts on the rice and dairy industries detailed in Deni first appeared in The Border Mail.