State of the drought shows dams empty and NSW drowning in dust

The hot dry summer has stripped the soils of moisture, water storages are down in every state and territory, and New South Wales is drowning in dust.

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Key points:

  • Water stores are down in every state and territory
  • Keepit dam is empty and Dubbo’s dam could be empty by 2020
  • A hot and dry summer has exacerbated low soil moisture, with a dry autumn forecast

So far this drought has been short but hard-hitting. The coming cold season will be a test of that descriptor.

Last year’s national farm production was down on the bumper year of 2016, but a good year in the west, decent prices and some moisture last summer softened the blow.

But with widespread low soil moisture, the pressure is on the arrival of cool-season rain.

The heat is making things worse

Lynette Bettio, a climatologist at the Bureau of Meteorology, said the big dry was affecting large parts of NSW, eastern South Australia and parts of the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia.

And despite the flooding rains in the north, even Queensland isn’t off the hook.

“The floods largely missed those areas of drought that we were covering,” Dr Bettio said.

“It did relieve some of those areas; those large totals of rainfall meant that some areas near the border with the NT are no longer in that bottom 10 per cent for those [drought-measuring] periods.

She said the dry was the result of intense high pressure over Australia that made frontal systems weaker and less frequent than usual.

“We’ve just come off a record-warm summer, and that extreme heat that we saw, especially those heatwaves in December and January, certainly exacerbated those drought conditions and really added to the intensity of the impacts.”

“For autumn, for rainfall, there’s really an increased chance of below-average rainfall across much of eastern Australia.”

The dams and the damned

A mostly dry northern wet season (torrential flooding in Queensland notwithstanding) and last winter’s dismal rain in the south, has resulted in depleted water storages in every state and territory compared with this time last year.

New South Wales is the lowest at just 27.8 per cent of capacity overall, which is grim, but it gets worse when you look at individual dams.

Tony Webber from WaterNSW said it was a “very serious situation”.

Keepit Dam on the Namoi River, north-west of Tamworth, all but ran dry at the end of 2018.

“Menindee Lakes in the far west is in a similar predicament,” Mr Webber said.

“Releases into the Lower Darling have ceased. In fact, the Barwon-Darling River system itself has all but ceased to flow.”

The problem is widespread.

“Most northern dam storages are in single figures. Pindari, for example, is 3 per cent in the centre of the state,” Mr Webber said.

“Burrendong Dam on the Macquarie River, servicing communities like Wellington, Dubbo, Nyngan and Cobar, is down to almost 7 per cent of capacity.

Around 40,000 people live in Dubbo.

Mr Webber said it was not only economically damaging but also exacted an emotional toll on the communities reliant on that surface water.

“Many of those small communities are now dependent on groundwater where that’s available, but the situation for landholders not on regulated systems has been very, very dire for quite some time,” he said.

“Now we’re seeing a similar situation for even stock and domestic entitlement holders on rivers that are served by a dam.”

Moisture buffer gone

Obviously the situation depends on where you are. Some areas in Western Australia had a record crop in 2018.

Department of Primary Industries agronomist and farmer Rohan Brill got a crop out of his property in the NSW Riverina last year, thanks mainly to moisture already in the soil.

Rain in December 2017 gave Mr Brill a buffer that, when combined with good prices, compensated for the dry winter and spring.

But the hot summer means that soils are dry and that buffer is gone.

“I think in general, most of southern New South Wales would be behind this time last year,” Mr Brill said.

Northern New South Wales, he said, was probably at a similar level as last year, but only because last year was equally bad.

So what do you do, sitting on dry land with a bad forecast?

Step one is to hope for rain.

Remembering past years that looked bad but came good is probably beneficial for morale, given the current bad outlook.

“I know in 2016, it was very dry through autumn and quite hot and we took a long time hanging on for rain,” Mr Brill said.

“It rained probably toward the end of autumn in 2016 but then it just kept on raining, so I think that’s the hope of everyone around.”

Then, there is lots of contingency planning — what to plant when, and if, it rains.

“I’ve heard people talk about not growing crops like canola because they’re higher risk, but in some ways, a crop like canola can actually be cheaper to grow,” he said.

“If you’ve got a lot of weeds it’s quite expensive to control in a wheat crop, but in canola it’s much cheaper to control the weeds.”

Finding savings elsewhere is also important. Mr Brill said doing soil tests to know what was really needed could be beneficial.

“Historically my grandfather and my father have been putting out a lot of phosphorus into the soil,” he said.

“The virgin country has very low phosphorus, but we are actually at a point now where the phosphorus reserves have been built up quite well.

“So it’s one of those inputs that we could potentially cut back on this year.”

In dry years Mr Brill said it was important not to forget the basics.

“It’s just making sure we don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”

A state drowning in dust

In the meantime there is another problem.

“The dust is our worst thing at the moment. It is just horrible,” Mr Brill said.

“As soon as we get a change of weather coming in from the west, it just whips up a heap of dust from paddocks west of here and it just rolls in on dust storms.

The long-term issue is the loss of top soil.

“Topsoil doesn’t recover overnight, that’s for sure. It takes decades to build up.

“You can see paddocks around here now, even some of the areas that are fairly safe really look awful because it’s been so intense and come on so fast, they haven’t really destocked quick enough.

“So yeah, let’s hope for gentle, soaking rain for a few days, about anytime now, things will pick up.”

Let’s hope.

Source: ABC 2019-03

Murray Darling Basin Authority jobs to move to regional communities

A third of Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) staff are expected to be employed in regional communities, says Agriculture and Water Minister.

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Key points:

  • Agriculture Minister confirms plan to move a third of MDBA staff to regional locations
  • Dozens of relocations to SA, NSW and Victoria already announced
  • Staff are yet to be consulted and funding allocation for the change is unclear

Mr Littleproud confirmed the commitment today as he announced that up to 30 MDBA jobs would be relocated to Griffith, New South Wales.

Earlier he announced 12 MDBA jobs would be moved to Murray Bridge, South Australia, another 20 jobs would relocate to Mildura, Victoria, and another location is expected to be announced tomorrow.

“Those that manage the river should live on the river,” Mr Littleproud said.

He said the decision to move the jobs was “predicated on essence of delivery, spread geographically, where a lot of management of the river system is required”.

“Let’s not be cynical, let’s just celebrate,” Mr Littleproud said, rejecting any suggestion that the jobs are being relocated for political gain.

The jobs are existing, not new, and staff are yet to be consulted about how the decentralisation process will work and who is expected to relocate.

It is not clear what government funding has been allocated to assist with the changes, which are expected to affect about 100 workers.

Relocation ‘won’t affect delivery’

MDBA Chief Executive Phillip Glyde said staff could relocate and successfully deliver the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

“We welcome the investment by the Federal Government in further decentralisation,” Mr Glyde said.

“We’ve got 10 per cent out of our staff there, we’ve done that over the past two years within our own budget, but with this investment we can do so much more.

“There’s a two-year period to roll this out, so that we can do this, and still deliver the Basin Plan [which has] a lot of tight deadlines between now and then, and we’re really quite comfortable that.”

“We’ve already got four regional offices and we think we can walk and chew gum at the same time.”

It is not yet clear which staff will be expected to move, or what compensation will be provided.

“I haven’t been back to the MDBA, we started yesterday with these announcements, so far people are just wanting to find out the details and know what’s involved,” Mr Glyde said.

“When I go back on Friday I’ll be talking directly with staff.”

The MDBA currently has regional offices in Adelaide, Albury-Wodonga, Goondiwindi, Toowoomba.

Relocations from ‘senior executives down’

Mr Littleproud said all staff at the MDBA would be considered for relocation.

“For the last 24 hours I’ve been working on Philip Glyde to move out of Canberra,” Mr Littleproud said.

“The reality is it’s from the senior executive level down, we’re going to look right across the board, from decision-makers right through environmental people to compliance.

“The suite of opportunities are there.

“So we will be asking them to relocate and we will be looking for those who want to start up, whether they be local or from Australia or around the globe.

“We saw that with the Regional Investment Corporation and APVMA (Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority).”

NSW Regional Water Minister Niall Blair said his state, together with Victoria, had pushed for the bureaucrats to relocate to as part of Basin negotiations last December.

“We wanted the authority to be located in the communities that are impacted by its decisions,” Mr Blair said.

“There’ll be more knowledge passed on on the side of a sporting field or at a cafe than what you might get in a formal meeting or briefing.”

National Irrigators Council spokesman Steve Whan said there had been push for quite some time to see the MDBA in Basin communities.

“If it is done carefully, with respect for employees and keeping knowledge within the authority, I think it is a positive move,” Mr Whan said.

Source: ABC 2019-03

Queensland crops wither in drought as dams dry out

Queensland farmers are nervously watching the skies as summer crops fail and winter crops look increasingly less likely to be planted.

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Key points:

  • Multiple seasons’ crops are likely to be missed across Queensland, due to drought
  • Dams across the state are at record lows
  • Some crops that have failed will need to be destroyed

For many, this winter crop will be the second in a row they will miss, for others it will be their third.

Dam levels also have farmers worried with the state’s second largest storage, Fairbairn Dam, hitting its lowest ever point.

Dam operator SunWater’s general manager of operations Colin Bendell said the state was in a strange dichotomy as dams overflowed with floodwater in the far north, while water restrictions were in place across much of the rest of the state.

“We have four dams spilling in Far North Queensland and we have a number of other dams in a very average position,” he said.

“We have seven dams below 50 per cent and some that are approaching or at record lows.

“Fairbairn Dam is at a record low of 11.7 per cent … [and] that’s very concerning, as it’s a very large dam and it will take quite a large rainfall to get decent inflows there.”

Mr Bendell said it is not the dam that is cause for concern.

“We also have Leslie Dam at Warwick at 7 per cent, Kroombit Dam at Biloela is at 3 per cent, Bjelke-Petersen Dam at Bundaberg is at 8 per cent and Coolmunda Dam at Inglewood is at 15 per cent,” he said.

“In most cases there will be some water allocations but not in all cases.”

Dryland farmers face another season with no crop

Dryland farmers who rely on rain only to water their crops have been feeling the pinch for some time now.

Capella grain farmer and grazier Brett Prince is relying on the sorghum he grew in summer 2018 to feed his stock.

“It’s not uncommon to see a missed summer crop or a missed winter crops, it’s a bit surprising to see us miss both,” he said.

“It probably won’t hurt now, it will hurt in three months’ time when we are chasing our next lot of sorghum.”

Mr Prince would usually have 160 hectares of grains planted at this time of year but currently his paddocks lay bare.

“This years’ seen no broadacre cropping go in at all, last years’ winter crop was pretty dismal,” he said.

With only 30 millimetres of rain so far this year it will take a decent amount of wet weather to make any difference.

Mr Prince said he is staying optimistic.

“I’m sort of hoping that because we haven’t gotten any summer rain we might pick up a little bit of winter rain and we can get our wheat in a bit earlier… time will tell, I guess,” he said.

“I’m always hopeful, but I’m not holding my breath.”

In southern Queensland farmers are getting ready to plough in cotton crops that have failed to thrive.

Agronomist and farmer Mick Brosnan said some will have to make the heartbreaking decision to cut their losses.

“The dryland cotton that has gone in, all but one of the crops has failed,” he said.

“We’ll probably be making decisions on destroying those next week, or the week after.”

Source: ABC 2019-03

Murray-Darling Basin debate gives rise to new Victorian voices of despair

Sick of watching Victorian farms fail, shops close and real estate signs go up, communities in the southern Murray-Darling Basin are forming new groups.

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By their own admission, no-one really knows what to do, but dissatisfaction with the basin plan is such that a number of organisations have been formed to try to do something before it is too late.

Drought, water market reform, and the introduction of high-value crops that can afford to pay more for water than traditional farms has seen water prices rise to a point where many farmers can not afford to irrigate.

“I think it’s a fact that the eyes never lie,” says Nick James from his home on the banks of Broken Creek, a tributary of the Murray River.

“We are all in this great little community here in the Goulburn Valley, and you look around and it’s slowly moving from ‘the food bowl’ to ‘the dust bowl’.”

He leads a group of young farmers, business people and community members from northern Victoria which formed in the past week to push for change to the rules around the water market.

The group, Northern Victorian Irrigation Communities, is not calling for the whole Murray-Darling Basin Plan to be thrown out, but rather wants a lot of the rules and structures around the water market changed to make it fairer.

That includes a close look at carryover water which currently allows irrigators to keep water from one season to the next, more stock market-style transparency for water markets to understand who-owns-what water, compulsory water metering, and standards for the entire basin.

“We’re not looking for a short term fix,” Mr James said.

“We’re not looking for a good rain or some environmental water to come on the market. That’s just a bandaid to fix cancer.

“We’re looking for long-term solutions to make it sustainable for the next generations.”

Groups shun traditional lobbyists

Traditionally, agricultural lobby groups have been relatively stable in the region.

Farmers pushed for change through well established channels of their state farming organisations such as the Victorian Farmers Federation, commodity groups like Ricegrowers Australia, or national bodies like the National Farmers Federation or National Irrigators Council.

But in recent years that has changed.

The amount of milk produced in the southern Murray-Darling is down by a quarter, the region will produce its second-lowest rice crop since the 1930s, and the spread of cotton has halted due to high water prices and a lack of water.

So farmers and community members, in despair, are calling for a paradigm shift, and into the void come new groups promising to change the region’s fortunes.

Wade Northausen is angry and wants the basin plan thrown out.

“This is a national state of emergency,” he said.

A group he is forming called Southern Basin Communities is holding public meetings to try and do something about water that he says traditional lobby groups have not been able to achieve.

“I got very frustrated with being involved in those organisations who will not fight,” he said.

He is yet another voice wanting a Federal royal commission established with hopes to scrap the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

Speaking up for water

The traditional lobbyists are being forced to notice and recognise the force of the anger.

But when the ABC asked the president of Ricegrowers Australia, Jeremy Morton, whether the newer lobby groups helped or hindered the Murray-Darling Basin approach, he sat on the fence.

“To be honest it is a bit of both. They are reflecting the lived experience of those in that part of the basin right now,” he said.

“They’re angry, they’re frustrated, and these groups show how people feel.”

In southern New South Wales the Speak Up campaign has been bubbling along for a few years, was incorporated a year ago, and has started to get more serious.

They want Prime Minister Scott Morrison to acknowledge there is a problem in their community.

“I get phone calls nearly daily from people ready to blockade highways and march on Canberra. They are just so fatigued and frustrated,” said Shelley Scoullar, the chair of the Speak Up campaign.

“They are ready to march on Canberra and we thought we’d send one more letter, hoping that the Prime Minister would meet with us before it comes to that.”

Source: ABC 2019-03

Dams drop as drought runs on after a hot, dry summer

Experts have reflected on the state of Australia’s drought-afflicted areas after a hot, dry summer affecting large parts of the country.

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The Bureau of Meteorology says the extended dry period is now affecting large parts of NSW, eastern South Australia and parts of the Northern Territory and northern Western Australia.

Queensland saw some extensive flooding, but is by no means off the hook, according to Bureau of Meteorology climatologist Lynette Bettio.

“The floods largely missed those areas of drought that we were covering,” Dr Bettio has told the ABC.

“It did relieve some of those areas; those large totals of rainfall meant that some areas near the border with the NT are no longer in that bottom 10 per cent for those [drought-measuring] periods.

“But there’s still large parts of southern Queensland that are in that bottom 10 per cent of rainfall and lowest-on-record rainfall for those 11-month and 23-month periods.”

The short but intense drought has been linked intense high pressure over Australia, which is making frontal systems less frequent and unusually weak.

“We’ve just come off a record-warm summer, and that extreme heat that we saw, especially those heatwaves in December and January, certainly exacerbated those drought conditions and really added to the intensity of the impacts,” Dr Battio said, adding that the coming months are not looking exciting either.

“For autumn, for rainfall, there’s really an increased chance of below-average rainfall across much of eastern Australia.”

Water storage in New South Wales has been hit hard and now sits at just 27.8 per cent of overall statewide capacity.

This get worse on an individual level, with dams like Keepit Dam on the Namoi River now dry.

“I’ve been in the water sector for 11 years; I’ve never seen a dam run dry and that’s the situation in Keepit,” Tony Webber from WaterNSW said.

“Menindee Lakes in the far west is in a similar predicament.

“Releases into the Lower Darling have ceased. In fact, the Barwon-Darling River system itself has all but ceased to flow.

“Most northern dam storages are in single figures. Pindari, for example, is 3 per cent in the centre of the state.

“Burrendong Dam on the Macquarie River, servicing communities like Wellington, Dubbo, Nyngan and Cobar, is down to almost 7 per cent of capacity.

“It’s scheduled, under a continuation of this worst-case scenario, to run dry by as soon as early 2020.

“Many of those small communities are now dependent on groundwater where that’s available, but the situation for landholders not on regulated systems has been very, very dire for quite some time.

“Now we’re seeing a similar situation for even stock and domestic entitlement holders on rivers that are served by a dam.”

With the situation not likely to break anytime soon, the experts say many agricultural communities are left waiting for rain while trying to make every saving they can in the meantime.

Source: WaterCareer 2019-03

Drought aid Gippsland: Farmers left short on water rebates

The Federal Government has short-changed Victoria’s drought-affected farmers, delivering just $5 million in rebates.

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In NSW, the Federal Government’s has delivered $12 million in rebates of up to $25,000 or 25 per cent of on-farm investments.

But in announcing the scheme in Victoria last week Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said just $5 million would be distributed to thousands of farmers across 22 shires.

“The levels of funding were negotiated and agreed with the states,” Mr Littleproud said.

“Funding was based on stocking rates, reliance on dams used as water source for livestock, the number of bores as well as the level of drought in the state”.

The Bureau of Meteorology’s drought maps show Wellington and East Gippsland shires have endured two years of severe rainfall deficiencies, the traditional measure of drought, levels similar to those in NSW. But the federal rebate has been made available to farmers in many other shires — Alpine, Benalla, Buloke, Campaspe,

Gannawarra, Bendigo, Shepparton, Hindmarsh, Horsham, Indigo, Loddon, Mildura, Moira, Northern Grampians, Strathbogie, Towong, Wangaratta, Wodonga and Yarriambiack.

Giffard farmer Trent Anderson said he was disappointed so little was being stretched so far in Victoria. “I didn’t realise the allocation was so small — $5 million compared to $12 million in NSW,” Mr Anderson said. “We need far more, and it (funding) should be available for drought recovery measures, like re-sowing pasture.”

While the rebate can be claimed on stock watering investments made since July 1, Mr Anderson said he put in bores to secure his stock water well before then. “Why are we penalised for being proactive?” he said.

Meanwhile Victorian farmers have been left in the dark on how to access $2500 Drought Hardship Support Payments, which state Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes announced on February 22.

Last week Nationals Eastern Victoria Upper House MP Melina Bath told Parliament her electorate officers were being inundated with calls from farmers seeking access to the $2500 payments. “But they are being told by Agriculture Victoria that they can only register as an expression of interest,” Ms Bath told Parliament.

“Minister, why did you announce this initiative if you were not ready to deliver it?”

Source: 2019-03

Dairy industry welcomes NSW election commitments

Dairy farmers have welcomed a commitment from both sides of politics ahead of the NSW election but some fear it will not be enough.

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State Minister for Primary Industries Niall Blair made an election pledge for a ‘dairy advocate’ on the campaign trail on Thursday, backed by a business unit and marketing campaign to encourage consumer support for NSW milk.

“Our advocate is going to work with our agriculture commissioner to rattle every single cage,” Mr Blair said.

“We can only do so much at a state level, but we’re not giving up.”

Kyogle dairy farmer Shane Hickey dismissed the announcement of an advocate for the industry as “just another political person in office”.

He said the only viable solution to save Australian dairy was to re-regulate the industry.

“Everything we’ve seen since deregulation has been a disaster,” Mr Hickey said.

“Bring back the old policies … the farmer made money, the processor made money, and the consumer paid a fair price for the product.

“Having [a dairy advocate] employed, spending more money to not do anything, it’s the wrong way.”

Cautious optimism

Dairy Connect chief executive Shaughn Morgan said he welcomed the pledge which followed a similar election promise made by the opposition.

Dairy farmers’ pressures

Labor leader Michael Daley committed to the appointment of a dairy and fresh food pricing advocate backed by a unit designated to investigate and report within three months of taking office.

“We welcome the commitment both parties have made to appoint an advocate,” Mr Morgan said.

“This needs to be done, and it needs to be done immediately, because if we don’t the industry will collapse.”

Mr Morgan said the industry was facing systemic problems that stemmed from the time of the industry’s deregulation in the early 2000s.

“We’re now seeing the consequences of inaction thus far. The current farmgate price is so low that it’s below the cost of production,” he said.

“If we’re not cautious we won’t have a dairy industry in this state in a generation.”

Too little, too late?

John Miller, chairman of the South Coast Dairy co-operative, said it “wouldn’t hurt” to have an industry advocate, but expressed concern that it could be “all talk and no action”.

“People are leaving the industry in droves, great farmers … and we really need to keep them and unless it happens soon, they’ll be all gone,” he said.

There are currently six farmers supplying milk to South Coast Dairy, all of whom say they are struggling to make ends meet.

South Coast Dairy supplier Peter Cullen said milk production in his area had dropped by 20,000 litres a day.

“It’s pretty challenging when you go to bed at night and wake up at say two o’clock in the morning thinking about things. The main one is viability, viability as a farmer,” he said.

Mr Miller said the co-op could only manage to take half of its farmers milk, with the other half going to larger processors who pay much less.

“We’ll keep going, it’s just pretty tough at the moment,” he said.

“We’re punching above our weight against multinational giants so we really need to increase our market share and it’s hard against the big boys.”

Source: ABC 2019-03

Farmer mood edges up, but drought weighs on 2019 outlook

The lack of much needed drought-breaking rain in eastern and southern Australia continues taking its toll on farm sector sentiment.

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Rabobank’s first rural confidence survey for 2019 showed while overall farmer sentiment in the nation had risen marginally in the past quarter, more farmers are negative than positive about the year ahead.

Sentiment has plunged in Queensland as northern cattle producers come to terms with the devastation of recent flooding.

However West Australian and and South Australia producers were more optimistic than their counterparts further east, reporting a higher level of confidence as they looked forward to a good autumn break.

Rabobank Australia chief executive officer, Peter Knoblanche, described the start to the year as very difficult for many, as drought, bushfires and floods left their mark.

The country had endured its warmest summer on record and was heading into an autumn period with a “very uncertain” seasonal outlook.

A good autumn break in the next month would be critical to let farmers to get crops in on moisture and give graziers some relief from feeding stock.

“Significant rain is also needed to boost irrigation storages, which remain low in all major systems in south-eastern Australia,” he said.

Mr Knoblanche said commodity prices, thankfully, remained strong.

“Positive developments like improved access to overseas markets, such as the recent trade deal with Indonesia, and increased investment in agriculture are also helping to underpin longer-term positivity in the sector,” he said.

The latest quarterly survey of 1000 farmers found 33 per cent of expected conditions in the agricultural economy would get worse this year.

That’s actually a slight improvement on the 40pc with that view late last year.

Drought remained the primary driver of pessimistic sentiment at a national level, cited by 82pc.

Farmers anticipating a better year have also declined in number to 22pc (from 26pc in December), while 39pc felt the agricultural economy would remain stable.

Investment plans hold solid

However, on-farm investment intentions remained relatively strong across Australia, with nearly two-thirds of surveyed producers set to maintain their current level of farm business investment in 2019.

About 19pc intended to increase investment.

WA and Tasmanian farmers had a particularly strong investment appetite, with 34pc (almost double the national average) looking to lift investment over the coming year.

In contrast, 25pc in NSW and 21pc in Queensland were winding back investment as seasonal challenges continued.

Farmer confidence remains highest in WA after grain growers finished one of the most profitable years ever experienced.

“While it will be hard for the coming season to match up, it has helped set many up for this year, and the years ahead,” Mr Knoblanche said.

Strong grain prices helped keep sentiment strong in SA, too, while Victorian farmer confidence has edged up, mostly in anticipation of a positive autumn break.

Australian farmers are very proficient at managing the weather’s vagaries, however natural disasters like the recent Queensland floods are something else entirely- Peter Knoblanche

However, for North Queensland cattle producers who had endured years of drought and fought to keep their stock alive, Mr Knoblanche said it was nothing short of devastating to see the losses caused by last month’s floodwaters.

“While stock losses are yet to be determined, some graziers in the region have lost half, to nearly all of their cattle, making it a very long road to recovery,” he said.

“Australian farmers are very proficient at managing the weather’s vagaries, however natural disasters like the recent Queensland floods are something else entirely, and nobody can adequately prepare for these extremes.

Qld mood leads fall

Queensland generally showed the biggest slide in farmer confidence in the survey, while NSW sentiment remained relatively subdued.

Southern Queensland’s hot and dry summer had curtailed crop yields, particularly in the South West and Darling Downs.

In SA, Victoria and NSW – where last year’s winter crops were all below average and it remains dry in many regions – farmers were looking for a “decent autumn” to set them up for the year ahead, Mr Knoblanche said.

“It is perhaps the most anticipated autumn break in a long time, coming off the back of a dry year, and in some areas, a consecutive run of dry years,” he said.

“Farmers are ready to jump into their cropping programs with confidence if the season allows, although it will take time to ease the input cost pressures for those feeding livestock and to rebuild herds.”

Meanwhile in Tasmania, confidence remained relatively sound despite the bushfires, which have impacted grazing country in the Highlands and may have tainted wine grapes with smoke in the Huon Valley and Channel region.

Overall 34pc of farmers expected a weaker financial result this year, which was fewer than last quarter’s 42pc, but those expecting incomes to improve were down slightly from 24pc to 21pc.

WA and SA led the positive mood on income projections.

Grain price hopes

With local grain stocks at a 10-year low, confidence in the grain sector is being underpinned by expectations of domestic values staying above average into 2020

Confidence was also comparatively strong among sheep graziers, with 50 per cent expecting a similar year to the last, and a further 22 per cent expecting conditions to improve.

“While the high feed costs have taken some of the shine off, lamb and wool prices remain at historically high levels,” Mr Knoblanche said.

“But graziers will be hoping for a good autumn to reduce their feeding requirements, which not only takes its toll financially but also emotionally, as farmers are out there feeding their stock day-in, day-out.”

Confidence in cotton, sugar and dairy lagged the other commodity sectors.

In dairy, substantial cost pressures continued to create significant headwinds for farmers.

“Feed costs are now double where they were a year ago and, for irrigators, the cost of temporary water has trebled,” Mr Knoblanche said.

Source: Farmonline 2019-03

Farmers respond to water management proposals

A group of farmers from the Finley discussion groups met recently to discuss cropping, management and feeding strategies.

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The farmers were asked to fill in a survey on what changes are needed for the management of irrigation water. Here are their responses and ideas.

The NSW Government needs to realise we are not going to survive as a drought proof area unless they assure us with a minimum allocation each year — ie. 10 to 20 per cent — that allows communities to continue in a healthy state.

Another farmer said allocations need to be a minimum 40 per cent every year, and of the 40 per cent you would sign a declaration not to sell it.

The environmental flows are there for rivers because the rivers are used to supply irrigators.

There should be no environmental allocation or usage during dry or drought years.

We need the Water Act changed so it preserves endangered species ie. irrigation farmers.

Another said change the rules so the only people with a landholding can carryover water. Reduce carryover back to 20 per cent so it doesn’t lower dam capacity.

This will prevent environmental water (which they don’t know what to do with) taking up all the space.

There was lots of feedback on the Murray Darling Basin Plan, including:

The Murray Darling Basin Authority needs to be held to account over its outcomes.

Are the environmental flows (a) having the affect, (b) who is checking the outcomes, (c) do they need environmental flows in dry years? More accountability is needed — how much water is going down the Murray?

Another farmer said a full audit of Murray operating functions was needed.

Rewrite the Basin Plan was an opinion but another response was that the plan is unfortunately here to stay. However, implementation of the rules around water sharing and managing environmental flows needs to be fair for all.

The waste of water we have seen this year in a drought year is criminal. There should be no environmental waste.

There were lots of thoughts on South Australian water. The Basin Plan is more than delivering water just to SA.

The water plan should be changed so there is less to SA. If there is a Royal Commission into the plan it needs to look at the SA allocation and barrages.

One said more SA water should be supplied via the Murrumbidgee Valley.

The lower connected water trading basin requires more dam water storages — ie. Big Buffalo Dam — to provide water for farming and the environment.

The Basin Plan needs to be independent of politics and to express the loss factor of sending water to SA.

The MDBA should take over SA like it’s already taken over Queensland, NSW and Victoria. SA are now selling water as they have enough!

There is a need to look at the transmission loss to deliver water to corporate plantations on greenfield sites in Victoria and NSW, as well as SA. There should be an audit into the SA government control of their water.

Accountability by Basin Authority and NSW Water for the water losses of running the Murray are too high, increasing losses by sending water for the environment and SA needs. The transmission losses to SA, like flooding of forests at Barmah Choke, should be debited to environmental water.

The Lower Lakes cannot be kept as fresh water. The Lower Lakes should revert to estuary water.

Four farmers said the barrages should be removed. Lake Alexandrina should be part of the Basin Plan and send it back as a tidal lake.

With my little experience with water it runs downhill. We are closest to the storages so I’m not sure for how much longer they are going to let it go to SA where they don’t use it very wisely. The trouble is there are no votes out here. We need more people talking about the Lower Lakes — we see too much water going out to the sea.

We have a plan and now we have emotive calls for more water. There is a need to stand back and consider what the real impacts of the plan have been and which areas have been impacted most and which areas were impacted least.

We need water into the Darling because if there is no Darling water SA’s water will have to come from the Murray.

We need to have a long term vision in Australia and look at ways to access more water into the Basin from the Northern Rivers for water security long term and then implement the infrastructure to achieve it. The Bradfield scheme into top of Darling is needed.

We need water but nothing will change because there’s not enough of us to vote and make a difference. The only change will be when the whole population is hungry. Hopeless! Earlier and more transparent allocation announcements would help.

People buying water with no irrigation land is an issue. The best use of water is for it to be used higher up in the valley (with fewer losses) and we need this to be communicated to the people in power.

We need more media on nil allocations and what it means for rural communities with the decimation of rural areas. We have to be more aggressive in stating our case.

There is probably not going to much more rice anymore and possibly corn. The politicians need to realise the impact of zero water allocation.

Last but not least several farmers said we badly need rain to save our communities. It needs to rain to improve water allocations. We need rain in the north and our catchments.

Source: Southern Riverina News 2019-03

Dam projects on agenda in north to boost water security

Projects to shore up the north’s water security and boost agricultural output are back on the agenda in the wake of last month’s floods.

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The Hughenden Irrigation Scheme is powering ahead with a new authority established to oversee the project, which attracted $182 million in federal funding last year.

The North Queensland Water Infrastructure Authority will also streamline processes for Hells Gate Dam.

Hughenden Irrigation Corporation chairman Shane McCarthy said a dam at Fairlight Creek would have filled many times over if constructed prior to the flood.

The dam will have a capacity of 500,000 megalitres, with another 200,000 megalitres in holding dams.

“When the river was a metre under the bridge in Hughenden 537,000 megalitres was going past in a 24 hour period. In 24 hours we could have filled the dam,” Mr McCarthy said.

“We could have filled it many times over if it had been built at that stage instead of the water flowing out to the Gulf.”

He said the dam could have prevented flooding in town and hay could have been grown on irrigated land.

“The north side of Hughenden flooded and we could have prevented that. With the amount of country we would have been able to irrigate, we would have had hay locally to move around the region.”

Mr McCarthy said the first $990,000 was in the account and was being spent on design work and a business case.

KAP State Leader and Traeger MP Robbie Katter said he was pleased to see the project progressing.

“It’s good to see everyone getting on board now but we expect to have to fight every inch of the way to turn the $180m into a bountiful wealth creating asset for the north,” Mr Katter said.

Other projects progressing across the north include the Nullinga Dam on the Atherton Tablelands and Urannah Dam near Mackay, with business cases expected to be finalised this year.

Natural Resources Minister Dr Anthony Lynham said preliminary work was underway on the $352 million Rockwood Weir project in central Queensland.

Sunwater is also conducting additional investigations, including an ‘expression of interest’ process to determine demand for water from the Burdekin Falls Dam wall raising project.

Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington has also committed to progressing those projects and will establish a new government-owned corporation based in Townsville to construct new dams if elected.

MSF Sugar general manager business development Hywel Cook said additional water from the Nullinga Dam would allow them to expand and value add to the Tablelands Mill, while increasing broader agricultural industries in the region.

“All the current water supply is allocated, 100 per cent, to do anything substantial and double agriculture in the area we need an additional dam.

“The reality is the whole of the Tablelands is a great place for agriculture, with wetland and dryland farming opportunities with irrigation, it is close to international ports.

“It seems to make more sense to expand agriculture and agricultural processing west of Mareeba, with the expansion of tree crops there is a lot of demand and it’s high value agriculture.”

LNP resources spokesman and Burdekin MP Dale Last said water security was vital for the north to flourish.

“If you have water, you have opportunities for the agricultural sector and resource industries, for both domestic and industrial use,” Mr Last said.

“We are serious about building dams and we will be accessing federal government funding to progress the approval and construction of these dam projects.

“People are sick and tired of the endless studies and reports around water infrastructure, we are committed to build these dams as a priority.

Source: Queensland Country Life 2019-03

Murray–Darling Basin Authority Communique

The Murray–Darling Basin Authority met in Melbourne on 12 March 2019 to press ahead with its work program to support  the Murray–Darling Basin Plan.

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The Authority members urged all jurisdictions to do more to communicate progress achieved to date with the Basin Plan to their communities. The current outlook for continued drier and hotter conditions underlined the need to ensure the community has up-to-date information about the role and importance of implementation of the Basin Plan and its operation.

The Authority acknowledged the hardship experienced by communities throughout the Basin that are currently coping with little or no river water. With the Murray–Darling Basin experiencing its driest two-year period since 1902 and the Bureau of Meteorology’s dry outlook for water resources means that the pressure on people across the Basin and its fragile riverine environment is likely to continue. In a briefing from the MDBA’s head of River Management, Andrew Reynolds, Authority members were reassured that water conservation was the priority for water managers across the Murray system and all Basin jurisdictions were tasked with managing the finite resource with care.

The Authority commended the work of CEO, Phillip Glyde, and all staff of the Authority for their sustained efforts in progressing the Plan’s implementation, and at the same time responding to heightened community concern and public debate about the Plan and drought conditions in the Basin. They recognised the increased demands this has placed on staff and acknowledged the critical role they are playing.

The Authority was briefed on the challenges of operating the river to meet requirements to supply water to all water users including communities, agricultural businesses and the environment. Stakeholder concerns and the need to communicate issues associated with river operations effectively was emphasised.  A report on the management and accounting of system losses in water delivery was considered and will be published in the coming weeks.

Members were briefed in detail on actions by the MDBA and others to address fish deaths in the rivers of the Murray–Darling Basin, in particular in the area of the Lower Darling where three major events occurred over summer. The Authority commended the effective cooperation between the Commonwealth, state and local agencies to mitigate further fish deaths in the Basin through a range of actions including targeted water quality monitoring, use of satellite imagery to locate water hole habitats, intelligence sharing with on-site stakeholders and funding aerators in the Lower Darling.

Professor Rob Vertessy reported to Authority members on the Independent Assessment of the 2018-19 fish deaths in the Lower Darling, which is due to present its final report to the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources at the end of March. He outlined the causes behind the Lower Darling fish deaths and discussed measures to reduce the likelihood of future events. The Authority was briefed on the broad-based expert review workshop held in Melbourne on 27 February. The interim findings were shared and tested by about 40 experts and gaps in analysis were identified. Professor Vertessy also outlined the panel’s plans to travel to Menindee after 31 March to discuss the findings and recommendations with the community.

As chair of the MDBA’s independent Advisory Committee on Social, Economic and Environmental Sciences, Professor Vertessy also briefed Authority members on the committee’s work program to help guide the MDBA’s next phase of work on climate change as well as monitoring and evaluation. Professor Vertessy underlined the continued need for active engagement of the MDBA with diverse members of the scientific community, from a range of research institutions, to ensure robust and evidence-based implementation of the Basin Plan.

The Authority noted the publication of the MDBA’s climate change discussion paper in February as an important step to deepen engagement with the climate science community and lead agencies to progress the MDBA’s work in this area. The discussion paper will be a platform to advance the Basin Plan’s accommodation of a changing climate in the lead-up to the major 2026 Basin Plan review.

The extended outreach by the MDBA to Basin communities was discussed as part of the report of Basin Community Consultative Committee. The Authority welcomed the Committee’s recent communication in relation to the importance of ongoing implementation of the Basin Plan. The Authority also received advice following the recent visit by the Chief Executive, Phillip Glyde, to Broken Hill and the Lower Darling area. The recruitment of a regional engagement officer for the Lower Darling, focused on the Menindee area, will increase connections with this part of the Basin. Members stressed the critical importance of regular and accurate information being readily available to the public, about river operations and the Basin Plan, as well as opportunities for people across the Basin to engage with the MDBA on matters of local importance.

The Authority was pleased to meet with the Victorian Deputy Secretary Water and Catchments at the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Helen Vaughan, and discussed the importance of, and challenges associated with, current conditions in the Basin and with the continued implementation of the Basin Plan reforms including the completion of Victoria’s water resource plans.

Authority members noted the schedule of state governments to submit water resource plans for consideration by the Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources for accreditation, once assessed as being compliant with Basin Plan requirements by the MDBA. Proposed water resource plans for Wimmera Mallee groundwater (Vic), Wimmera Mallee surface water (Vic), the Condamine Balonne (Qld), Queensland Border Rivers-Moonie (Qld), Eastern Mount Lofty Ranges (SA) and River Murray (SA) are currently with the MDBA for assessment, and several Victorian and ACT plans are expected in the coming weeks.

The Authority noted that all states had requested an extension from the Minister to extend the deadline to submit water resource plans to the MDBA. The Authority urged states to use any extension of time to ensure the plans submitted were robust. They highlighted the importance of appropriate community consultations, including with Aboriginal traditional owners. The Authority has the expectation that effective measures for ongoing community and Aboriginal involvement will be in place. The Authority also urged states to ensure details of the mechanisms they would use to regulate and account for all forms of water diversions, including floodplain harvesting, were clear and robust, and highlighted the need for environmental water to be adequately protected in all state plans. The Authority highlighted that even with the extension, without sustained effort, the finalisation of the plans this year remains a key risk.

The importance of toolkit commitments being addressed by state governments was reinforced by the Authority in order for northern Basin water resource plans to be assessed as suitable for accreditation by the Minister. The NSW Government entered a formal agreement concerning progressing toolkit measures, before its caretaker period. The measures outlined the effective protection of environmental water and also included works and measures to facilitate fish movement and improve habitat as well as the removal of constraints to water flowing into wetlands. These and other commitments – once implemented through water resource plans – will ensure environmental water holdings in the northern basin are translated into real benefits to the rivers’ long-term ecological health.

Authority members emphasised the significance of the 30 June 2019 milestone when all governments have agreed that new limits to the diversion of water from the Basin’s rivers and ground water resources will come into effect. These arrangements will be formalised though the accreditation of water resource plans.

Variations to the shared reductions of water to be recovered for the environment at a catchment level were presented to Authority members for consideration, and agreed to on the basis that it met the requirements of Basin Plan s6.05.

An update was provided to the Authority on MDBA commitments to boost compliance in the Basin by chair of the Authority’s independent Compliance and Assurance Committee, Alan Holmes. The Authority noted progress in implementing the Basin Plan Compliance Compact and were concerned with some of the findings of the Water Trade Price Reporting Audit report which will be released in the coming weeks. The Authority reinforced the importance of accurate trade price reporting for an effective market, and the importance of good administrative systems to support this. The Authority also stressed the importance of the robust and thorough work underway to build the MDBA’s capacity to enforce compliance with the Basin Plan.

The final draft report of the Review of Joint Governments Governance Arrangements by Mr Greg Claydon, as appointed by the Basin Officials Committee (BOC) on 20 September 2018, was noted by the Authority. The review is intended to inform the improved stewardship of the Basin Plan by all government through streamlined decision making, clarity of roles and responsibilities of various committees, improved efficiency and cost effectiveness of joint governance arrangements and increased transparency and community confidence. Basin governments will provide a response to recommendations for consideration at the next Ministerial Council meeting in June 2019.

The method of reviewing the Basin-wide environmental watering strategy, which is a requirement of the Basin Plan in 2020, was considered by the Authority. The review is an essential check on the environmental framework to ensure that the targets are fit for purpose.

The Authority discussed the announcement by the Australian Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, David Littleproud, of the Government’s decision to decentralise about a third of the MDBA. The authority noted this was an extension of the regional office network the organisation, that has seen 10 per cent of staff located in regional centres to date.  The Authority reinforced the importance of consulting with staff on the next step in regionalising the organisation while ensuring an appropriate disposition of staff across the more dispersed network of offices to support the MDBA’s continued effectiveness. Authority members asked for regular updates on progress in delivering further regionalisation. The Authority also stressed the importance of continuing the MDBA’s work to implement the Basin Plan and manage the River Murray and welcomed the new funding that would allow for a methodical approach to developing an implementation workplan for regionalisation.

The next meeting of the Authority is scheduled for 2 April 2019 in Dubbo.

Source: MDBA 2019-03

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

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