Victorian farmers have warned the federal government and other states not to sacrifice the key food bowl of the Goulburn-Murray irrigation district around Shepparton in a political deal to keep the $13 billion Murray-Darling Basin Plan on track.
There are fears more than $100 million of farm milk, 500 jobs, $200m of dairy food production and many dairy farmers and fruit growers would be lost from the key irrigated farming region if a further 450 gigalitres of water annually is taken from farmers and returned to environmental river flows under the plan.
All state water ministers will meet federal Agriculture and Water Minister David Littleproud in Canberra today, with the decision to restore a further 450GL of water to the Murray-Darling Basin river system — on top of the first tranche of 2750GL of environmental water that is close to being recovered since 2012 — a key topic of discussion.
It is understood Mr Littleproud, who secured the ongoing support of the federal opposition earlier this year for the amended plan, is determined the extra 450GL of water will be “saved” for the environment by 2024.
It is considered this water will most likely be retrieved by encouraging irrigators to install more efficient irrigation systems on their farms — paid for by the federal government — with half of the water volume saved annually by each farmer taken in return by the government to meet its extra 450GL environmental recovery target.
Dairy farmers such as Rick Cross of Toolamba, south of Shepparton, are considered the most vulnerable to further water loss and rising prices since they use their irrigation allocation to grow grass, hay, silage and fodder crops for milking cows that produce low-value milk worth 40c a litre. Mr Cross, who milks 350 cows daily that are fed using 850 million litres of water a year, says water is his livelihood and he fears the impact a further 450GL taken out of the irrigation system would have on his already suffering home community.
“It will be felt hard, and most of all by the dairy industry, which has gone through a few tough years,” he said.
“Regardless of who sells water or which farm it comes from, the result will be less available water and higher prices for everyone. We’ve already lost so many neighbours and farmers. I worry how we are going to have an industry and a region that is strong for the next generation.”
Mr Littleproud said last night the extra 450GL would be committed and delivered back to the environment only if it could be done without negative social and economic outcomes.
Victorian Farmers Federation water president Richard Anderson said Victoria’s food bowl could not stand to lose any more irrigation water, after bearing the brunt of nearly half the water recovered under the Murray-Darling plan in the southern basin in the past five years.
By: Sue Neales
Source: The Australian