Murray farm­ers are all be­ing rooned

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Landmarks - Jo Stud­dert Agri­cul­ture

HAN­RA­HAN is not so funny th­ese days: farm­ers in the Murray Ir­ri­ga­tion Area are be­ing squeezed by a three­p­ronged in­stru­ment of tor­ture that threat­ens their sur­vival.

Drought is the cen­tral prong. There has been no win­ter rain and wa­ter al­lo­ca­tions are at zero.

Win­ter crops failed, have been cut for hay or ploughed un­der, with any seed grown be­ing kept for next year’s imag­ined sow­ing.

The sec­ond prong is the fact that wa­ter al­lo­ca­tions are be­ing sold per­ma­nently, usu­ally to towns, which kills the fu­ture of farm­ing in the area.

The third prong is the high cost of feed caused both by the drought and by the de­mands of ethanol pro­duc­ers.

Val­uer Kerry Her­ron of Her­ron Todd White says: ‘‘ Th­ese are des­per­ate times down south with high se­cu­rity wa­ter be­ing sold per­ma­nently for up to $ 4000/ me­gal­itre, to be lost for­ever to rural pro­duc­tion.

‘‘ Many oth­ers are sell­ing their wa­ter en­ti­tle­ments ( the few that still have any wa­ter at all, that is), and in a num­ber of cases this is hav­ing an alarm­ing snow­ball ef­fect on rural towns, with busi­ness clo­sures and farm fore­clo­sures.’’

He says prop­erty val­ues are hold­ing firm in some aeas, but gen­er­ally they are drift­ing down, with sales vol­umes dry­ing up with the weather.

‘‘ It’s start­ing to bite,’’ says David Shuter, the val­uer’s di­rec­tor for south­ern NSW and north­ern Vic­to­ria.

‘‘ We got some good rain in late Oc­to­ber but it was too late: the crops had al­ready failed or been cut for hay. ‘‘ At least hay is sell­ing well — $ 420 a tonne com­pared with the usual $ 250-$ 300 — but that doesn’t help farm­ers who have to buy feed.’’

The area has had one re­cent mort­gagee- in- pos­ses­sion sale.

The prop­erty is near De­niliquin and at­tracted some bids but at lev­els half of those the place would have got four years ago. It didn’t sell.

‘‘ Most sales in the dis­trict are oc­cur­ring un­der some pres­sure, but not yet gen­er­ally by the lender. But val­ues are fall­ing,’’ Shuter says.

An ex­am­ple, he says, is ‘‘ Wyeamba’’, a 4000- acre farm north of Al­bury which has just sold for $ 1050/ acre. Three years ago it would have brought $ 1400-$ 1500/ acre. Cit­rus trees and and vines are dy­ing or be­ing cut to the ground in the hope they will re­cover af­ter a dor­mant pe­riod.

The Corowa pig­gery, the town’s big­gest em­ployer, is un­der threat be­cause it can­not get enough wa­ter and the ef­fect on the town will be sub­stan­tial. Things are crook in­deed.

Luck’s run out: The skele­tal re­mains

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