More boost for northern Victorian water market

Irrigators and farmers facing continued dry conditions in Northern Victoria will have the option of purchasing additional water.

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Minister for Water Lisa Neville said the government would be making up to 14 GL available after it was identified as no longer required by Connections for irrigation modernisation projects.

The additional water will be offered up for sale on the northern Victorian water market through selected brokers from late March to June 2019.

This is on top of the Northern Victorian Resource Managers recent seasonal determination for Goulburn allocations which have now reached 100 per cent.

Minister Neville has also required 75 gigalitres owned by Melbourne water corporations to remain in northern Victoria and be made available to irrigators through the water market, as well as a further 10 GL recently identified as available by the Victorian Environmental Water Holder as part of their trade strategy.

All market participants, including water corporations and other government agencies, are subject to the same set of rules and must act with transparency and behave in a way that will not distort the water market for others.

In line with this, the water will be packaged into smaller bundles across multiple brokers so that as many market participants as possible will have the opportunity to purchase the water.

The Labor Government’s efforts to improve regional water efficiency and productivity are continuing with the landmark $2 billion Connections Project – which is aiming to save 429 GL of water.

The Reset Delivery Plan has the project on track, on budget, and already delivering for local communities – with an estimated 4150km of channel expected to be modernised over the course of the project, including the installation of new water meters.

Quotes attributable to Minister for Water Lisa Neville

“Given the ongoing tough conditions our regional and rural communities are facing, we know any additional water we can provide is a welcome boost for those living and working in Northern Victoria.”

“Offering additional water for sale is a practical way we can support irrigators and farmers and is another demonstration of how we’re continuing to get things done on the ground across the region.”

Source: Delivering for All Victorians 2091-03

Australian pecan industry set to take flight as interest swells

The trees have no major insect pests or diseases, can live up to 400 years and their produce is bringing the same money per kilogram as macadamias.

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They sound almost too good to be true. Welcome to the burgeoning world of pecan nuts.

The Australian pecan industry is steadying itself for expansion as existing growers look to invest further while those outside the industry are having a serious look at the native American nut.

Part of this expansion includes farming information days, the first for the year being held at Boyne River Pecans at Mundubbera, Queensland earlier this month.

In an indication of the interest, some 50 people attended the day, travelling from as far as Lismore, Toowoomba and Goondiwindi to find out more.

A name change for the association and a new logo are just some of many steps being undertaken in the industry’s gradual rise.

The Australian Pecan Association takes over from what was formerly the Australian Pecan Growers Association.

President of the APA, Scott Clark, said the change was implemented to better encompass associated industries like supply chain partners, processors, bankers, lawyers and anyone connected to pecan nuts.

“If we get a whole industry wide understanding of how things grow, everything is going to go a lot better,” Mr Clark said.

The organisation is also nearing completion of a grower’s guide which it hopes to have out by the end of the year.

Fielding calls

Scott Clark has held the presidency for the past decade as well as looking after his own 5000-tree orchard at Lismore, NSW.

He said he’s seen significant growth in the industry in the past two years.

“When I first became president 10 years ago I used to get one or two inquires about pecans a year. Now I’m getting one or two a week about potential new growers,” he said.

That push comes from demand. China, India, Korea and the United Arab Emirates are all making inquiries to secure Australian pecans.

“The problem is we don’t have the nuts. We are trying to increase the profile of pecans,” Mr Clark said.

“They are quite a hardy tree, adaptable to a wide climate area, they yield well and the price is quite good at the moment at sort of $5 to $6 per kilo for nut-in-shell at three to four tonnes per hectare so you can get a good return.”

While that return price is comparable to the pin-up boy of the tree nut industry, macadamias, pecan nuts may very well have a few on-farm advantages.

“Pecans will grow in a wider range of soil types and climates than what macadamias will,” Mr Clark said. “Macadamias won’t tolerate frost whereas pecans like a good frost during winter.”

After about six years, trees will bear about 6kg per tree, hitting full production at around 15 to 18 years where they can put out as much as 20kg per tree.

Tree cycle benefits

According to Boyne River Pecans owners, Boyd Paton and wife Michelle Chicken, the deciduous nature of pecan trees provides an ideal management strategy which works in with their cattle production.

“By May here, the trees will have nearly lost all of their leaves,” Ms Chicken said.

“So naturally there are a couple months of the year there where the work and the labour in the actual orchard itself is relatively minimal.

“For mixed operations like ours it gives us time to focus on the other things we do on the property.”

The only spraying the couple does are foliar nutrition sprays, while interrow grasses are kept short by grazing sheep.

Pecan trees are air-pollinated (there are male and female trees) meaning they don’t require bees.

Cockatoos and crows however present the major pest problem, something Boyne River Pecans is combating with gas-guns.

The operation has also taken advantage of the progress of other nut industries such as the expansion of the almonds in the Riverland, SA, by purchasing good quality, second-hand “tree shakers” and harvesting equipment at a fraction of their new price.

Ms Chicken said one of the best bits of advice she could give to new growers is to choose their varieties carefully, with some performing better under inland conditions whereas others do well on coastal areas.

Big Confidence

The largest pecan nut grower in Australia is the Toowoomba-based, Stahmann Farms.

The company’s commercial business manager, Glen Crimmins, told attendees at the recent information day about Stahmann’s expansion plans.

Stahmann Farms currently has about 100,000 bearing trees at its 700-hectare farm, Trawalla, at Moree, NSW.

It also boasts about 60,000 non-bearing trees on an additional 300 hectares, plus another 400 hectares which is yet to be planted.

Stahmann has also invested in macadamias with about 70,000 bearing trees, 20,000 non-bearing trees and 840 hectares classed as “green field sites”.

“In the confidence sense, it’s great,” Mr Crimmins said. “The company is investing in expanding the pecan side of our business, as well as the macadamias, so we obviously see a future; a big future, a long term future, so, get into it, I guess is the message.”

He also outlined a new product- a 20g packet of maple and vanilla flavoured pecan nuts designed for airlines, under its Riverside All Australian brand.

“At the end of the day, there’s probably not a lot of money in that for us but people fly on airlines, they get to know pecans so it’s all about pecans and our brand, Riverside All Australian,” Mr Crimmins said.

Bank backing

THE pecan farming information day was sponsored by Suncorp Agribusiness.

Suncorp Agribusiness manager, Johan Simon, Bundaberg, spoke on the positive financial attractions to tree nut crops.

He said he had the privilege of seeing the books of many horticulture operators which gave him insight into trends.

“The biggest observation I make as a banker is that the labour input costs in terms of nut farms compared to any other farm, are far lower,” he said.

Mr Simon said mechanisation was having a huge impact on lowering the cost ratio of farm labour for nut growers.

Source: Stock & Land 2019-03

Basin dam levels drop below 30pc for the first time in nearly three years

Victorian high reliability water share irrigators could face zero allocations, this year as Murray-Darling dams drop below 30 percent.

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Victorian high reliability water share irrigators could face zero allocations, this year.

The total amount of water stored in the Murray-Darling Basin’s dams has dropped below 30 per cent for the first time, since May 2016.

Murray Darling Basin Authority River Operations manager Andrew Reynolds said continuing dry conditions would have a significant impact on Victorian and NSW irrigators.

“If things stay dry, Victorians with high reliability water shares in the Murray catchment are facing zero allocations at July 1, 2019,” Mr Reynolds said.

“We need wet conditions to prevail for entitlement holders to reach full allocations by October,” Mr Reynolds said. “The New South Wales outlook also includes indications about the effect on allocations if dry conditions continue.”

In the Murrumbidgee and Murray, for example, at this stage no commencing general security allocation for 2019-20 was expected.

“Across the Basin we have 6932Gigalitres of water in storage right now, which translates to 30pc capacity,” Mr Reynolds said.

“This time last year storages were at 52pc.”

Mr Reynolds said while 30pc storage was a concern to water managers across the Basin, the southern basin was in better shape than the north.

What is widely regarded as the southern drought reserve, Dartmouth Dam currently held just over one third of the water, stored in the entire Basin.

“In the northern Basin, the dams are at only 11pc capacity, with 569GL available of a possible 5198GL.

“Again, the reserves in northern dams themselves vary-Lake Wyangala on the Lachlan, for example, is holding 33pc with 400GL while Split Rock Reservoir on the Namoi is about 4pc full with 14GL.

Mr Reynolds said the MDBA didn’t know how long the drought would last, and continued to plan for the possibility that storage levels would be a concern into next year.

“It is usual for reserves to be drawn down every year at the end of the irrigation season, with the expectation that water availability will increase as winter and spring rains top-up the storages,” Mr Reynolds said.

“In the past year those rains have not eventuated or have been very limited.

“The last time we had similar conditions was in autumn 2016, when Basin-wide storage levels bottomed out at 28pc, before recovering to 84pc, six months later, following widespread rain in the southern Basin.

“With dry conditions expected through autumn, we’re anticipating people will carry-over water where they can to shore up their supply into next year

“In the Murray we will continue to notify the state water authorities about the availability of water, as they consider their allocation position for next season.

“We’re keeping a constant eye on what’s happening and we’re working with the state governments, the Bureau of Meteorology and local communities to make sure we have the best possible information to guide water management as the year progresses.”

Source: Stock & Land 2019-03-29

Murray-Darling Basin Plan to be reviewed if Labor elected

Federal Labor has signalled it will withdraw support for a major part of Murray-Darling Basin Plan, if elected and change the way water is delivered.

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Key points:

  • Labor to repeal cap on buying more environmental water
  • Labor to scrap compliance role of basin authority
  • Government says Labor plan is a hoax

Opposition Water spokesman Tony Burke has announced Labor would change the way 450 gigalitres of water is recovered, by “restoring the socio-economic definition” for delivering water.

It comes less than a year after the Government and basin states agreed on a way to measure the socio-economic impact of recovering water.

Making the announcement with the South Australian state Labor Opposition in Adelaide, Mr Burke said Labor would also call an urgent review of the impact of climate change across the Basin.

It would also “urgently renegotiate the Menindee agreement, which determines how the lakes are managed”.

Mr Burke has already committed to repeal a cap on buying more water from farmers to return to the environment, and remove the compliance function of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to a newly established federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Water Minister David Littleproud described Labor’s plan as a “hoax”.

“Labor can’t change the neutrality test unless all of the states agree and they know it,” Mr Littleproud said.

“The plan is locked and no one should be playing politics with it.”

Irrigators say it’s difficult to get states to agree

The National Irrigators’ Council chief executive Steve Whan said his group did not support the proposal.

“The 1,500 gigalitre cap (on buying more water from farmers) was actually introduced with Labor’s support,” Mr Whan said.

“I think one of the fundamental things we need to see out of the coming few months in the lead up to the election in May is that we keep the basic bipartisanship on the plan,” NIC chief executive Steve Whan said.

Mr Whan believed it would be difficult for Labor to get the states to agree to any change.

“If they can’t get the states to agree to that change then they’re at an impasse which will effectively cease further action unless the Commonwealth Government wants to go it alone which would be quite difficult.”

Source: ABC 2019-03

Lismore co-operative to become largest macadamia processor

Shareholders of the Macadamia Processing Company have voted in favour of acquiring the remaining shares in Pacific Gold Macadamias.

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MPC already has a 37 per cent stake in the Bundaberg processor, and the acquisition will consolidate the Lismore-based co-operative as the largest macadamia processor in the world.

MPC is 100 per cent owned by around 180 macadamia growers in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland.

Larry McHugh, the chief executive officer of MPC, said that 35 growers attended the Ballina meeting to vote on the proposition to acquire the remaining PGM shares.

“The voting was essentially 99 per cent for all the resolutions and only one per cent against, so it was very favoured by the growers and the owners of MPC,” he said.

“The proxies were almost exactly the same, so there was hardly against the motion and almost all the proxies were for.

“Some shareholders couldn’t vote on some of the resolutions so there were over one million votes on two of the resolutions and around 500,000 on each of the others.”

Each vote allowed is based on the number of the shares held with the MPC.

“So a grower who owns 500,000 shares gets 500 votes, and there are just over two million shares in MPC,” he said.

MPC will acquire the PGM shares by issuing MPC shares to replace them to those shareholders.

“About 600,000 MPC shares that will be issued to take place of the existing PGM shares,” he said.

ACCC not concerned with takeover

In 2018 MPC processed 12,900 tonnes of nut-in-shell and PGM was not too far behind with 11,500 tonnes.

“They’re very similar size and they’re number one and number two in Australia for the quantity they processor,” said Larry McHugh.

“There’s one in processor in South Africa who or may or may not be bigger than us at the moment, but this will take us to be comprehensively than any other processor in the world.”

Mr McHugh said there was no concern that the acquisition would lessen competition in the industry.

“As part of the process of doing this transaction we submitted to the ACCC, [we] answered a whole set of questions for them and they came back and said they weren’t going to hold a public inquiry about it,” he said.

“This point they’re satisfied, they always reserve the right to come back but essentially we’re just reflecting what we’ve been doing for the last few years working together and making the bond stronger.”

The transaction date for the acquisition is expected on April, 30.

He believes that the acquisition is not only good for MPC and PGM growers but the entire macadamia industry.

“This transaction is about creating a stable base so that our companies can stabilise prices around the world and help maintain the value of growers’ farms,” he said.

“Our size now allows us to have influence on the world market and that’s what we intend to do over the next five years as the crop grows, we intend to use our influence to try and make sure prices remain stable.”

The global production of macadamias is expected to double within the next five years.

Macadamia prices could lift for growers

MPC has released an opening price for its suppliers of $5.40 per kilogram nut-in-shell, up 20 cents on last year’s opening price.

“That’s up on our initial price of last year of $5.20, but the final price that MPC was $5.60 so it’s actually in between the start price and the end price,” he said.

“We issue a price at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year if we have profit in the companies then we do a profit distribution through the nut-in-shell price at the end of the year.

“There was quite a sizeable bonus to growers last year and we’re trying to get closer to what we believe our final price will be this year rather than having a major bonus at the end of the year.”

Mr McHugh said this year’s end price could be $5.60 or even higher.

“It’s too early to tell at the moment because it’s very early in the season and we haven’t really got a good handle on what the crop’s going to be or the sales for the year yet,” he said.

“But demand is strong, there’s some doubt about the crop in the Northern Rivers because of the long dry that went on in there but we’ll know over the next few months what the crop’s really like.”

Last year the Australian macadamia industry produced a record crop of 52,900 tonnes and growers are predicted to top that this year delivering an estimated 53,500 tonnes.

Source: ABC Rural 2019-03

Australia’s sheep industry looks positive despite decline in numbers

The marked decline in Australia’s sheep numbers has ultimately benefited the industry leading to its strongest position in decades.

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Released in Shanghai yesterday during ANZ’s latest customer delegation to Asia, the report highlights the drastic decline in sheep numbers during the past 50 years.

In 1970 the national flock was around 180 million, and today sits at around 69 million, run by about 31,000 producers.

“The domestic decline in sheep numbers was caused by a range of factors, including low sheep and wool prices and a shift from sheep to grain and cattle farming which at the time provided more attractive export options and were viewed as less ‘hands-on’ to run,” ANZ Head of Agribusiness Mark Bennett said.

ANZ’s report highlights that while China continues to build its flock, Australia and New Zealand remain the world’s two largest producers and the outlooks for both sheep meat and wool look positive.

For sheep meat, prices are high and are expected to remain so, due to low Australian sheep numbers which are estimated to grow by around one per cent per year from 2020.

A lack of near competition, with the exception of New Zealand, also reduces the chance of a major oversupply.

Falls in domestic lamb and mutton consumption have stabilised and make-up around 10 per cent of the Australian meat diet, while sheep meat exports continue to grow.

China is now the largest market for Australian sheep meat, while the Middle East and the US provide strong demand.

“While sheepmeat may only be a relatively small percentage of China and the US’s total meat consumption, the sheer scale of these markets means large volumes of Australian product are required,” Mr Bennett said.

For Australian wool, the outlook is also promising.

While the world’s flock is increasing, its focus is on sheepmeat, creating limited wool supply.

This has led to export opportunities, with China’s wool imports rising from around 200,000 tonnes in the early 2000s, to more than 350,000 tonnes in recent years.

“Limited supply, particularly for fine apparel sub 24.5-micron wool, combined with growing interest in natural fibres over synthetics amongst Asia’s middle-class, is expected to maintain strong demand for Australian wool,” Mr Bennett said.

Despite the rosy outlook, ANZ’s report highlights a number of challenges for the industry.

“Changing consumer trends including a potential preference for grain finished meat, perceived health concerns regarding red meat consumption and the wider availability of alternative proteins in major export markets, could pose some risk,” Mr Bennett said.

“Wider political and economic factors such as animal welfare concerns, trade regulations as well as climate variability and biosecurity risks, are also issues that the industry must monitor and prepare for.”

Source: FarmWeekly 2019-03

Hail storm smashes 4 million avocados in under 10 minutes at huge orchard

A hail storm that ripped through an avocado orchard in the northern New South Wales last week has destroyed an estimated 4 million avocados.

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Aussie Orchards’ managing director Colin Foyster said 80 per cent of the fruit on the 12,000 trees at the Pretty Gully farm was knocked off and onto the ground.

“I wasn’t here but some people have said the hail stones were up to three inches [7.6cm] in size and very jagged,” he said.

“It only hailed for less than 10 minutes, but [the stones were] big enough to knock the fruit off the tree or damage the remaining fruit.

“It’s three months away from harvest, so it’s all immature, so it’s unsalvageable.”

Mr Foyster said the remaining fruit on the trees also had impact marks where the hail hit the fruit, and the trees themselves were also damaged.

“If it’s around the stem, or it’s severe, it will lead to a rot and that fruit will then drop off,” he said.

“But most of the remaining fruit, the 20 per cent, it’ll just be downgraded.”

Mr Foyster said the remaining avocados would be downgraded from premium fruit to class 2 fruit worth half the value.

“It won’t go into a premium 5kg tray; it’ll go into a 10kg bulk box, which you basically get the same money for,” he said.

Record expected for Pretty Gully crop

Aussie Orchards is a family-owned-and-operated business with avocado, lychee, sugar cane, macadamia and vegetable farms spread across the Northern Rivers and far-north Queensland.

Pretty Gully is an isolated area, 35 minutes’ drive north of Tabulam in the Upper Clarence Valley.

This year Pretty Gully was expected to deliver a record crop for the Foyster family, but instead it is believed to be one of the biggest natural disasters to hit a single avocado orchard in Australia.

“This is a 100 per cent mature orchard; the original trees are 20 years old and the youngest trees are 12 years old,” Mr Foyster said.

“It’s protected so we don’t get the wind rub, so a high percentage of premium fruit comes off this property.

“We don’t have pests and diseases like we have to put up with on our other farms and a lot of other growers have to deal with.”

The 2019 crop would have produced an estimated 200,000 trays of fruit, or around 50 semitrailer loads of avocados.

Mr Foyster was devastated by the damage and the financial loss.

“My therapy is to assess the damage and get off this farm and go somewhere else for a month or two, and come back and it won’t be as apparent,” he said.

“But you can’t beat yourself up; you’ve just got to move on.

“It’s a bit sad for all my children, we’re all partners in the business together, they’ve only just started in the past couple of years and they were all looking forward to our record crop. But it’s not to be. They’ll bounce back.”

It may, however, take the orchard a little longer to recover.

“Hopefully there will be something left here for next year’s crop because it’s not just this year’s crop that’s on the trees, the fruit, it’s also the leaves that you see on the ground.

“They’re all the tips of where the flowers were coming for the next year’s crop, so there will be a major impact on next year’s crop as well.”

Avocado orchard survived drought and raging fire

It had been a tough season leading up to the hail storm with months and months of dry conditions in the region.

“We just got through the big drought and could see the rain coming, we were all very excited,” Mr Foyster said.

“So we stopped watering the orchard the day before the anticipated rain, but unfortunately it came in the form of hail.”

It had been so dry at the orchard that they had to truck in water daily for three months to keep the trees alive and growing.

“There’s no readily available water close to our farm, we’re at the top of a plateau, so I set up a semitrailer with bulk tanks and went and canvassed all the local farmers, cattlemen, anyone that had an excess water supply, a small dam,” he said.

“I pumped that onto the back of a truck and hauled between 100,000 and 150,000 litres per day to supplement the water that I had to get through that dry period into the cooler growing time.

“The roads here aren’t up to standard. I went through a set of tyres every three tanks of fuel just shredding them on the hard rock coming up the mountain.”

Then came the destructive bush fire near Tabulam that destroyed more than 20 homes and burnt out more than 4,000 hectares.

Mr Foyster said they were lucky that the orchard did not go up in flames.

“It only needed a good southerly wind and it would’ve been here within a 24-hour period. As the crow flies the fire was probably about 7 or 8km from the orchard,” he said.

“We did a lot of preparation around the orchard with fire breaks and set up a lot of our own equipment in preparation for it.

“The one thing about the fire is that we were aware of it for four or five days, so we had a little bit of a chance to prepare for it and thankfully for us it didn’t eventuate.”

Source: ABC Rural 2019-03

Updated water market trends available

An updated report on water market trends in northern Victoria is now available, providing insights into how water is owned, used and traded.

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This is an update to the previous Water Market Trends report released in February 2016. It analyses data from the Victorian Water Register on trends in the northern Victorian water market since 2001.

This new report includes additional information on the changes observed since 2014-15, and on trade patterns between different water users in recent seasons.

The report shows that the largest proportion of high reliability water shares remain privately owned and linked to land. Since 2015, the proportion of entitlement not tied to land has increased to 12%.

However, the data indicates that a lot of the water shares not linked to land are most likely held by farmers who regularly shift allocation to be used on their farms. Holdings by investors appear to be relatively small.

Where water is being used for irrigation is continuing to change. Water use in the Goulburn-Murray irrigation District has fluctuated significantly over the last ten years in response to seasonal conditions, commodity prices and water availability, while LMW diverters’ use has increased steadily since the Millennium Drought.

Market prices for water allocation have generally reflected water availability in the connected southern Murray-Darling Basin, and water availability in NSW has been seen to have a very strong influence on market prices in recent years.

In 2018-19, market prices have risen sharply due to drought in NSW and hot and dry conditions that have resulted in increasing competition for water to meet irrigation demands in the southern Murray-Darling Basin.

Across northern Victoria, irrigators are now more reliant on allocation trade in the market and carryover to help meet their water needs.

Through reports like this, and by continuing to improve the information available on the Victorian Water Register website, the Victorian government is committed to providing water users with clear, accurate information to help them make informed decisions in the water market.

The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning will be discussing the information in the report at a number of forums with water users over March and April including water corporation customer committees and other industry forums.

Source: Victorian Water Register 2019-03

Murray Irrigation launches Sustainability Product

Murray Irrigation will launch a Sustainability Product with 10GL of water made available and offered for sale to shareholders.

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The offer

Murray Irrigation has launched a Sustainability Product with 10,000 megalitres (ML) of water offered for sale at 30 percent below last week’s five-day weighted average price to encourage water use within the region and enhance the prosperity of local farm businesses.

The details

Through our investment in upgrading infrastructure, an increased ability to run the system efficiently and our commitment to our customers’ businesses, we’ve been able to offer 100GL in resource distribution this past season and now 10,000ML at a significantly discounted rate.

More information is available through Murray Irrigation.

Sources include: ABC Rural, The Land, The Weekly Times, Stock and Land, Stock Journal, Bloomberg, Farm Online, Queensland Country Life

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