By Dinny Adem
The following views and opinions expressed are my own and not reflective of, or on behalf of the Greater Shepparton City Council.
The point where endless discussions, seemingly inconsequential and contradictory economic impact studies laced with conflicting rhetoric from all quarters on water issues, is no longer tolerable.
Whilst these endless talkfests grind on, Mr and Mrs farmer stare blankly at each other across the kitchen table at 6am wondering whether today is the day they raise the white flag and surrender their livelihood, their lifestyle and in many cases put an end to generations of family farming which has been at the centre of their regional or rural communities for nearly 200 years.
Why are we at this crossroad? Is demand for our agricultural products dwindling? Are our farmers not adopting modern water efficiency practices ? No to both of those.
Increased costs of production and fluctuating market prices are factors, but not fatal ones as these challenges are nothing new to a long-term farming enterprise.
Being priced out of a market for a ‘commodity’ which can only be utilised on the very land farmers are about to walk away from, I think yes.
Whilst we cannot make it rain when and where we want to, overcoming the desperate situation we are in today is the ultimate goal, not something due to a cataclysmic natural disaster, but rather to a human engineered plan.
A plan authored and orchestrated by albeit well intentioned bureaucrats and politicians, nevertheless a plan is condemned to failure in its current form as seemingly none or little consideration was given to increasing water storage capacity.
The mixed messages of attempting to reduce the demand for water whilst simultaneously encouraging the expansion of export markets via production of water dependent agricultural products seems at odds.
To this day I have not heard a reasonable explanation as to why irrigation water was unbundled from the land it was attached to.
As temporary water surged towards $1000 per megalitre this past season and the Murray Darling Basin Plan (MDBP) is no closer to a satisfactory implementation, the powers that be are simply shuffling the deck chairs.
In contrast to chasing Unicorns via the MDBP, has no genuine consideration been given to complimenting the billions of dollars spent on water buy backs and efficiency measures with dare I say it, Dams?
A positive start would be to support and advocate for the Big Buffalo dam expansion, currently a small reservoir which originally was proposed to store up to 1000 gigalitres.
Whilst this reservoir only supplies a relatively small part to our system, its offset potential would result in a more secure supply for all Goulburn Murray Irrigation District i rrigators and the environment. A serious look at the potential for a couple of other smaller reservoirs would be the next logical step.
A combination of localised storage capacity building initiatives would be a major contributor to the solution rather than just an overarching management plan based on rationing that to date has failed.
It seems inconceivable to me that some politicians could have reasonably expected that independent states could ever agree on the fair distribution of such a fickle, unpredictable and indispensable resource such as water with no plan to increase storage capacity.
The often-heard response that dams don’t make it rain, is a childishly amusing statement and hence doesn’t deserve a serious debate.
Whether it takes 12 months or 4 years, rain will come and will ultimately fill whatever reservoirs are in existence.
Our local Federal MP Damian Drum gets it and is fighting furiously albeit over a mine laden battlefield.
Is irrigation dependent agriculture a core component of Australia’s economic future or not, or equally to the point, is small scale farming, generational or otherwise, part of this future?
If yes, then practical policy development, budgeting and implementation of those policies needs to commence immediately to prevent the heartland devastation that is looming large.
A devastation that will not only affect the jobs of thousands if not tens of thousands and ultimately Government coffers, but also the social fabric of our rural and regional communities.
There is a room enough for both large scale corporate style and small-scale farming in our agricultural landscape. In fact, balanced well, they compliment one another.
In my opinion Australian farmers are without doubt the most resilient in the developed world with an historic tendency to not expect or demand endless assistance from government .
Farmers will continue to wrestle with the perennial challenges inherent in their industry, weather, fluctuating markets, disease and the like, all factors that farmers of all types face, on an annual basis.
Our Australian farmers want only one thing, affordable access to water, not to the detriment of the environment, but in harmony with it.
We should never be forced to choose between irrigation or environment.
Either/or is neither an option or a necessity, securing and managing the resource effectively is what’s necessary, with the end result being a more secure supply especially during droughts for both irrigators and the environment.