Basin plan drains Wakool of hope
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