Water shortage threatens Riverina

By Dairy News

SOUTHERN RIVERINA farmers are facing another irrigation season of zero allocation, with major implications for the dairy industry.

For Helen Clark and daughters Kristen and Donna, who milk 800 cows just outside Finley, the most recent zero allocation announcement is unpalatable — especially considering South Australia has opened on 38 per cent and even under extreme dry conditions, is forecast to get 100 per cent by the end of the season.

‘‘Their water comes from the same catchment as us,’’ Ms Clark said.

‘‘How long can this continue to go on and how fair is it?

‘‘Is the government just going to let the dairy industry die and then realise it’s too late when we are all gone?’’

Ms Clark said current prices for temporary water (above $600/Ml) made purchasing no longer an option — the only saving grace has been recent rains.

‘‘Our pasture is not looking too bad — we had an inch of rain last week. If we get follow-up rains we might get some crop off.

‘‘We might just be okay this year because the milk price has improved, but irrigated pastures and crops are what make us sustainable and if we can’t do that in the long term, there is no long term for our business.’’

Just down the road at Blighty, 900-cow dairy farmer Lachlan Marshall is facing huge decisions.

‘‘We are on the verge of some confronting and very real decisions,’’ he said.

‘‘We have to destock because we can’t continue to feed and water our animals at temporary water prices of $660.

‘‘Our cows are the result of four generations of breeding and it’s a devastating thought,’’ Mr Marshall said.

‘‘Last year the storage at Dartmouth was over 80 per cent and Hume 60 per cent — they were nearly full and we still had zero allocation.

‘‘Is it going to take a flood before we ever get an allocation again?’’

Comments by Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack recently on talkback radio saying he did not see a problem with ‘‘non-producing buyers’’ in the water market have also angered Mr Marshall.

‘‘The tragedy of this situation is he has been to our region and he still doesn’t understand it.

‘‘Murray Valley and southern Riverina farmers appear to be collateral damage and that seems to be acceptable.

‘‘We have no leaders on water and water policy, everyone continues to pass the buck while our rural communities continue to shrink and people are leaving the dairy industry in droves.”