Basin plan drains Wakool of hope

The Weekend Australian - - INQUIRER - SUE NEALES

It’s a lonely busi­ness be­ing a young farmer in the NSW Rive­rina these days.

Since Darcy Hare, 26, re­turned home last year to the fam­ily farm at Wakool af­ter work­ing in Mel­bourne as a grain trader, the ab­sence of so many of his for­mer friends from the district has been strik­ing.

The past five years have hol­lowed out Wakool, west of De­niliquin, once a rich ir­ri­gated farm­ing district where rice was grown over sum­mer and ir­ri­gated wheat in win­ter.

But many lo­cal fam­ily farm­ers sold their per­ma­nent wa­ter en­ti­tle­ments back to the gov­ern­ment dur­ing re­cent hard years un­der the Mur­rayDar­ling Basin Plan, leav­ing ir­ri­ga­tion chan­nels dry and de­pen­dent on just a few iso­lated farms still grow­ing rice for the sys­tem to pump wa­ter.

Turn­ing once-ir­ri­gated land into dry sheep pad­docks dra­mat­i­cally re­duces the num­ber of work­ers re­quired and jobs gen­er­ated in a ru­ral district such as Wakool. The small bush town has lost its gen­eral store, cafe and foot­ball team, while the pub is run­ning on re­duced hours. Farm­houses sit empty among dry pad­docks. Only six other farm kids now join Hare’s younger sis­ter Ella Rose on the daily school bus to Barham High, 40km south of the fam­ily farm. A decade ago the bus was jam-packed with more than 40 teenagers. Of Hare’s own for­mer class­mates at Barham High, who pre­dom­i­nantly came from sur­round­ing farms, only five or six re­main work­ing in the district from a class of 43.

Yet Hare is con­fi­dent that as a bright young bloke keen to have a fu­ture in agri­cul­ture, he can make a go of ex­pand­ing and fur­ther de­vel­op­ing the po­ten­tial of the fam­ily farm­ing busi­ness.

The key, he says, is to en­sure no more ir­ri­ga­tion wa­ter leaves the WakoolMoulamein area as the na­tional Mur­ray-Dar­ling Basin Plan con­tin­ues to bite hard.

“I am pas­sion­ate about this re­gion and its ca­pa­bil­i­ties, but frus­trated by what is hap­pen­ing in po­lit­i­cal cir­cles and all the con­tin­ued talk of tak­ing a fur­ther 450 gi­gal­itres of wa­ter un­der the Mur­rayDar­ling Basin Plan,” Hare points out.

“This area has al­ready been hit hard­est by the plan and lost one-third of its wa­ter in just 18 months of buy­backs with so many farms gone dry; we can’t af­ford to lose any more.”

Hare says it is frus­trat­ing to be a young farmer “champ­ing at the bit” to pro­duce more food, and look­ing to take ad­van­tage of the Wakool district’s fer­tile soils, ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem up­grades and new pre­ci­sion agri­cul­ture tech­nol­ogy, when the threat of less wa­ter be­ing avail­able and higher wa­ter prices is al­ways hang­ing over his head.

DAVID GERAGHTY Grain farmer Darcy Hare

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