There’s a hole in our bucket

Deniliquin Pastoral Times - - FRONT PAGE -

A se­verely low rice crop is ex­pected to be grown in the Rive­rina re­gion this year, and Rice­grow­ers As­so­ci­a­tion of Aus­tralia chair­man Jeremy Mor­ton said the blame is squarely on the shoul­ders of wa­ter pol­icy de­ci­sion mak­ers.

Mr Mor­ton, who is a rice farmer at Moulamein, said the ‘‘hole’’ in NSW’s bucket of wa­ter for ir­ri­ga­tion is due to the Mur­ray-Dar­ling Basin Agree­ment.

He said it is in­con­ceiv­able and un­ac­cept­able that its cur­rent wa­ter shar­ing frame­work has re­sulted in the share of wa­ter in the Mur­ray sys­tem be­ing re­duced by 40,000 me­gal­itres.

He said this must be recog­nised and ac­knowl­edged by the Mur­ray Dar­ling Basin Min­is­te­rial Coun­cil (MinCo) in or­der for a con­ver­sa­tion to start about how the wa­ter re­sources could be shared more eq­ui­tably.

‘‘In its sim­plest terms South Aus­tralia’s bucket of wa­ter has been full since April, the Vic­to­rian bucket con­tin­ues to fill while the New South Wales bucket has a hole in it,’’ Mr Mor­ton said.

‘‘The RGA is con­vinced that a myr­iad of small and not so small changes to rules and cod­i­fy­ing of wa­ter shar­ing ar­range­ments is sig­nif­i­cantly im­pact­ing the share of the wa­ter re­source al­lo­cated to New South Wales.’’

‘‘The con­ver­sa­tion will be a dif­fi­cult one, but a good start­ing point is for MinCo to ac­knowl­edge that con­ces­sions have been made over many decades by new South Wales which have led to this in­tol­er­a­ble sit­u­a­tion.

‘‘We ask that MinCo com­mit to rene­go­ti­at­ing pro­vi­sions of the Mur­ray-Dar­ling Basin Agree­ment to ad­dress the in­equity of the cur­rent wa­ter shar­ing ar­range­ments.

‘‘We’re no closer to an al­lo­ca­tion and tech­ni­cally we went back­wards with 40,000 me­gal­itres less to New South Wales.’’

Mr Mor­ton said with­out any im­prove­ment to the wa­ter shar­ing rules and wa­ter pol­icy soon, the na­tion’s abil­ity to feed the world will be se­verely re­duced.

The PAS­TORAL TIMES un­der­stands that a crop of only 100,000 hectares is be­ing pre­dicted for the com­ing rice sea­son.

SunRice is reluc­tant to re­lease a ton­nage pre­dic­tion yet, say­ing it is ‘‘too early to pro­vide an ac­cu­rate fore­cast about 2019’’, but did con­cede it will be a ‘‘sig­nif­i­cantly lower crop’’ due to drought, low wa­ter al­lo­ca­tion and high wa­ter prices.

Mr Mor­ton said farm­ers need an ir­ri­ga­tion al­lo­ca­tion now, ‘‘be­fore it’s too late’’.

‘‘Farm­ers would usu­ally sow from mid-Oc­to­ber to about the first week in Novem­ber and shorter sea­soned va­ri­eties can be sown at the end of Novem­ber, but af­ter that it re­ally starts to risk the yield.

‘‘Farm­ers are great, they can get a crop in very quickly but the crit­i­cal thing is get­ting wa­ter into peo­ple’s ac­counts.

‘‘Some peo­ple have wa­ter from last year or fin­ish­ing off the win­ter crops who com­mit­ted to hav­ing a sea­son, but there’s not a whole lot of peo­ple in that po­si­tion.

‘‘I don’t know the ex­act num­bers (of the ex­pected rice crop) but I’m pretty sure it will be low.’’

A SunRice spokesper­son said the com­pany is hop­ing farm­ers can still take ad­van­tage of the ex­tended plant­ing win­dow.

‘‘Short sea­son va­ri­eties de­vel­oped by SunRice of­fer rice grow­ers the flex­i­bil­ity and op­tions to re­spond to chang­ing con­di­tions and sow rice as late as the end of Novem­ber or early De­cem­ber should rain and in­creased wa­ter al­lo­ca­tions pre­vail,’’ the spokesper­son said.

‘‘SunRice specif­i­cally de­vel­oped these short sea­son va­ri­eties so that grow­ers could take ad­van­tage of late wa­ter al­lo­ca­tions.

‘‘SunRice is pre­pared for the cur­rent drought and is al­ready im­ple­ment­ing mit­i­ga­tion strate­gies to min­imise its im­pacts on our op­er­a­tions and to pro­tect the com­pany.’’

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