Where is our wa­ter?

The Cobram Courier - - NEWS - Sophie Bald­win is a jour­nal­ist at The River­ine Her­ald and Country News. By Sophie Bald­win

I ex­ited the dairy in­dus­try three years ago.

It was heart­break­ing sell­ing my herd, but at least it was a de­ci­sion made by my fam­ily and I at the time.

To­day I just shake my head in frus­tra­tion.

Ev­ery day I talk to farm­ers across all com­modi­ties. Many are ex­it­ing, some are forced to sell, oth­ers are sim­ply hang­ing in there wor­ried about what the fu­ture holds for their busi­ness and their fam­ily.

And don’t get me started on where our food is go­ing to come from in the fu­ture.

If noth­ing changes and things stay the way they are, it cer­tainly won’t be grown here in Aus­tralia.

Or maybe it might be, but the odds are tip­ping more and more in favour of for­eign ownership.

Drought, wa­ter, ris­ing costs, lit­tle or no fi­nan­cial mar­gins — our agri­cul­tural in­dus­try is in cri­sis.

And in­creas­ing fi­nan­cial pres­sure is se­verely im­pact­ing on the men­tal health of the farm­ing com­mu­nity.

Ru­ral towns are feel­ing the pinch as bills go un­paid and fi­nan­cial pres­sure fil­ters into small busi­ness. No-one is buy­ing new ma­chin­ery or cars, peo­ple can’t af­ford to have a meal at the lo­cal pub any more and you can for­get about get­ting your hair done un­til it rains again. Drought af­fects ev­ery­one. It is not new to Aus­tralia, but the flawed wa­ter pol­icy our farm­ers now have to deal with is.

From the mo­ment wa­ter was taken from land and turned into a trade­able com­mod­ity, the death knell for agri­cul­ture in the Mur­ray-Dar­ling Basin has been sound­ing.

The in­tro­duc­tion of the Wa­ter Act in 2007 along with the flawed im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Mur­ray-Dar­ling Basin Plan has done noth­ing but dec­i­mate agri­cul­ture and farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties from Queens­land through to South Aus­tralia.

Farm­ers are a won­der­fully strong, re­silient bunch. They can do many things with in­ge­nu­ity and willpower — but they can’t grow food with­out wa­ter.

Why do we have a wa­ter pol­icy that is dec­i­mat­ing the only man­u­fac­tur­ing in­dus­try we have left in the country?

How can it be pos­si­ble that cot­ton farm­ers at the top of the Dar­ling can pump the river dry and use govern­ment funds to build dams to pre­vent wa­ter trav­el­ling its nat­u­ral course, while here in Vic­to­ria we watch wa­ter flood the bush or head out to sea to keep the Mur­ray mouth open in South Aus­tralia.

North­ern Vic­to­rian farm­ers are left shak­ing their heads as tem­po­rary wa­ter prices head north of $350 and wa­ter runs past their farms to flood the bush for the sec­ond time in three years.

Tem­po­rary wa­ter at high prices ben­e­fits no-one but wa­ter traders and sell­ers.

And if farm­ers can not af­ford to ir­ri­gate, where is the hay, grain and silage go­ing to come from this year?

It won’t be from NSW or Queens­land.

All of NSW is drought de­clared, 57.4 per cent of Queens­land is, and here in Vic­to­ria it is only a mat­ter of time with a dry spring and hot sum­mer fore­cast for 2018-19.

Spring is nor­mally the time when the ma­jor­ity of fod­der is grown and con­served.

Did I men­tion the govern­ment, in all its wis­dom, is right now flood­ing the bush again for the sec­ond time in three years?

Again I ask, where is all the fod­der go­ing to come from?

NSW ir­ri­ga­tors cur­rently have zero al­lo­ca­tion. They won’t be grow­ing rice this year and their crops that are strug­gling in the ground are just mere weeks away from fail­ing.

Sheep are al­ready eat­ing off the poorer crops and crop­pers are anx­iously pray­ing for rain on the oth­ers.

Here in north­ern Vic­to­ria we have the per­fect cli­mate and soil type to grow any­thing — crops, dairy, beef, hor­ti­cul­ture — but once again we can’t do it with­out wa­ter.

I love farm­ing. I al­ways have.

There is noth­ing more re­ward­ing then breed­ing a herd of dairy cows from a new­born heifer.

You can’t beat the smell of freshly-baled hay or a pit of silage cook­ing in the sun, or the sight of wa­ter slowly mak­ing its way across a dry pad­dock, the birds flock­ing in to eat the bugs that come out of the dry ground.

Is this go­ing to be some­thing we just rem­i­nisce about in the fu­ture?

Farm­ers are more in tune with the en­vi­ron­ment than anyone — af­ter all, they don’t have a busi­ness if they don’t have a healthy one.

There has to be con­sid­er­a­tion for the en­vi­ron­ment, noone is dis­put­ing that, but the un­fair grab of wa­ter away from agri­cul­ture can not con­tinue.

We can’t drought-proof our country with­out an in­dus­try wor­thy of in­vest­ment.

What is the point of up­grad­ing ir­ri­ga­tion in­fra­struc­ture to help drought-proof our country if no-one can af­ford to pay for the wa­ter to put through it in the first place?

❝Farm­ers are a won­der­fully strong, re­silient bunch. They can do many things with in­ge­nu­ity and willpower — but they can’t grow food with­out wa­ter.❞

Pic­ture: Shelby Fraser, Avago Ru­ral Pho­tog­ra­phy

Wrong way: Fod­der is now run­ning low in Vic­to­ria as much-needed wa­ter runs past farms to flood the bush.

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