Rain brings some relief but adds to despair in parts of New South Wales

Spring rain has brought a sense of relief to some farmers in parts of New South Wales who have been battling drought conditions.

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But while it may look greener in some areas, what’s being termed the ‘green drought’ is far from over.

Some areas around the Central West, Riverina and coastal areas have benefited from good rainfall of more than 100mm in recent weeks bringing a green tinge to paddocks, but sub-soil moisture levels still remain at near-record lows.

“September rainfall was average to very much below average across most of NSW, but some rainfall has seen conditions improve in parts of coastal, eastern and central regions,” DPI climatologist Anthony Clark said.

“The falls bring short-term relief with substantially more rain needed to restore depleted soil moisture levels.

“We may be dealing with a false break,” Dr Clark said.

Farmers hoping the rain will be a game changer

For Canowindra canola grower, Oliver Wythes, his 2,000-hectare property in the Central West has received its second-lowest rainfall on record.

But falls of 20–30mm in recent weeks has given him hope.

“If we hadn’t had the rain and we get a couple of dry and hot weeks, we’d have been looking at just half of what we’re now going to be able to harvest,” he said.

Coastal areas of NSW in particular have benefited from good falls of rain in September and October with some areas already receiving more than their monthly average.

Dairy farmer Rob Miller, from Milton on the South Coast, was considering closing down his dairy, which had been in operation since 1859, until it rained.

“We’ve had 75mm in the past 10 days and it’s transformed the farm; we’ve got green grass for the first time in six months,” Mr Miller said.

Some regions pulled out of drought

Parts of the state’s North Coast have received enough rain to now be declared out of drought altogether.

A fortnight into October, the average rainfall for the month has been surpassed with heavy falls over the past week.

For Shirley Mitchell, who grows sugar cane on the banks of the Tweed River at Tumblegum 20km south-west of Tweed Heads, planting next season’s crop was well and truly on hold.

“I’m saying at least a fortnight before we can start planting, and only if it [the rain] breaks today,” she said from her property, which is bordered by the river.

Last October, the total rainfall for the area was 212mm.

In the second week of this October Ms Mitchell has recorded 153mm in the space of six days — with 40mm falling in the space of two hours.

Rainfall misses out some regions, drought conditions worsen in west

Not all areas have benefited from recent rainfall.

In western New South Wales, the upper Hunter and in the north-west of the state, intense drought conditions remain.

Areas around Cobar, Bourke, Walgett and Coonamble have largely missed out on falls.

Rodney Slack-Smith farms at Burren Junction, between Narrabri and Walgett, where rain has largely passed him by.

He received 12mm recently, which was the most significant fall on his property since 2016 and hearing about rain elsewhere has been depressing.

“It is hard, it plays on your mind a bit but it is good for the people down south,” Mr Slack-Smith said.

In the Hunter Valley it’s a story of both celebration and despair.

Lower Hunter farmers have received the highest rainfall in more than 12 months, with some areas recording more than 100mm over several weeks but Upper Hunter farmers have had no such luck.

Alan Hardes is a farmer and stock carrier in Muswellbrook and has seen the worst-affected areas. He said the land was showing no sign of recovering despite rainfall recordings of up to 20mm.

“Some of the pastures will need re-sowing after such a long period without rain” he said.

 

Source: ABC News @ 2018-10

Coles, Aldi blasted by Minister over handling of milk levy for drought-stricken farmers

Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has launched a scathing attack on Coles over its handling of the 10c milk levy for drought relief.

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Minister Littleproud called the supermarket chain’s approach “slippery”, saying the extra money may not even go back to the right farmers.

Mr Littleproud also rounded on Aldi, saying the German-owned supermarket giant refused to apply any levy and had done “bugger all” to help Australian farmers.

The Minister’s broadside came after Woolworths last month responded to calls from the dairy industry by announcing it would increase the price of its own brand milk by 10 cents a litre as part of a new special drought relief milk range.

Coles quickly followed suit, but only for its 3-litre own brand milk.

Mr Littleproud said he wanted to give Coles the benefit of the doubt but he has now concluded it is an “empty media stunt”.

“The reality is, that is a very narrow portion of their range that sells,” he said.

“What they’ve also done to compound this is actually made a bureaucracy around getting that 10 cents a litre back to the farmer — they’ve actually now asked the farmer to apply for it.

The frustration has been echoed by farmer Shane Hickey, whose Facebook plea for help from the supermarkets went viral and is credited with prompting the levy.

Mr Hickey told ABC’s The World Today Coles should have implemented the levy on all sizes of its milk, and said the application model had delayed funds going to farmers.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with them. I don’t know what business school they went to, I don’t know what they think they’re doing, but their image is just getting tarnished every minute of every day by just being dodgy,” he said.

“All they had to do was give the money back to the processors, the companies that pack the milk, to give directly back to the farmers, and have an audit in place.

“Woolworths have done it, and their farmers have already received money, as of today (Monday) I think it is, they’ve already received money into their bank accounts.

“But Coles has gone about this crazy scheme where you’ve got to fill out an application form, you’ve got to send all this paperwork in.”

Mr Littleproud said under Coles’s models there was no guarantee the money collected would go to the particular farmers who supplied the milk, or that they would be paid according to the volume of milk they supplied.

Coles has since released a statement rejecting the Minister’s comments.

“It is disappointing that the Minister has chosen to criticise Coles — which has already committed over $12 million for drought relief — before becoming familiar with the facts,” the statement reads.

“Coles has established the Dairy Drought Relief Fund to ensure 100 per cent of the funds raised from this 30c increase on the price of Coles own brand 3L milk will be donated directly to dairy farmers affected by drought.”

Coles said it had also appointed consultancy firm PwC as an independent auditor to oversee the application process and verify that funds have been allocated to drought-affected dairy farmers.

Aldi can ‘go jam it’

Mr Littleproud saved some of his most stinging comments for Aldi, saying “the big German … won’t even come to the party and help the dairy industry at all.”

“Aldi basically turned around and said ‘go and jam it’,” he said. “It’s time that the Australian consumer looked at Aldi and what they’ve done.”

In response, Aldi released a statement saying it was supporting farmers during drought time by “accepting price increases” on the milk it purchased, but not passing those extra costs on to shoppers.

“Without a transparent, auditable and equitable process for funds collection and distribution, we believe that it would be irresponsible of Aldi to tax consumers on the purchase of milk,” the statement reads.

“Our firm preference is to support government-led industry reform, not short-term levies that could artificially alter market dynamics and have limited impact for those most in need.”

There is a known crisis in the dairy industry in Australia, with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission calling for a mandatory code of conduct to guide the sector.

Mr Littleproud said he was currently working on this, but in the meantime he suggested people consider shopping at independent grocers and buying branded milk.

“The Australian public have all the power in this. They can vote with their feet and their wallet,” he said.

 

Source: ABC News 2018-10

Private Carryover – Water Allocation Plan amendments for the River Murray

The Water Allocation Plan for the River Murray Prescribed Watercourse (the Plan) includes a private carryover policy that sets out how private carryover is calculated and who is eligible.

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Private carryover is a drought management measure and allows water to be stored in one year and used in another.

It increases the volume of water available for irrigation in dry years, to support productive industries and resilient communities.

The provision of private carryover is possible through arrangements in the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement, which allow the South Australian Government to store (defer) water in upstream (interstate) storage.

This water can then be made available in a future water use year to individual water users for private carryover.

Some changes have been made to the policy in the Plan to provide clarity and to ensure it meets the requirements of the Basin Plan.

Why were the changes developed?

The Department has received feedback that it is not easy to understand when private carryover will be available and the uncertainty regarding carryover announcement dates can limit irrigators’ capacity to make full use of carryover.

The private carryover policy has also been reviewed to ensure that all of our River Murray water allocation policies meet the requirements of the Basin Plan.

Changes to the private carryover policy were developed in 2017-18 in consultation with the Board’s River Murray Advisory Committee, a community-based committee that assists the Board in water policy development.

In accordance with the 2017 Plan, the Minister determines the volume of water that can be made available for private carryover based on how much water has been stored in upstream storages (deferred water), and how much has been underused in total by South Australian Water Access Entitlement holders.

Carryover will only be made available by the Minister when the forecast risk of spill from the major upstream storage is less than 10 per cent during the year in which carryover is granted.

Water stored for carryover purposes is subject to net evaporative loss. A loss of 5% is deducted from the total carryover volume delivered to South Australia.

To compliment changes made to the Plan, carryover announcements will aim to be made by mid-April.

This would align with the announcement of minimum opening allocations for the upcoming water-use year and provide entitlement holders with time to trade water into or within South Australia following the announcement of the availability private carryover.

 

Source: Natural Resources SA Murray-Darling Basin 2018-10

Public Consultation for on-farm efficiency measures

Murray–Darling Basin governments are seeking advice on how they can best invest in on-farm water efficiency projects.

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Governments want to know how they can increase on-farm water efficiency and return water savings to the environment while having a neutral or beneficial impact on industries and communities.

Research shows that on-farm projects can have positive outcomes but also present some risks. Additional assessment criteria and government action can help to manage these risks.

Your advice will help governments consider additional assessment criteria for on-farm projects that may apply across the Murray–Darling Basin.

On-farm efficiency measure projects can include, among other things, improving water delivery infrastructure, installing smarter technology to reduce overwatering, and replacing open channels with pipes.

We are convening a series of meetings across the Basin to hear community views on the program, and how it could be improved, as listed below. Written views will also be sought through an online process.

Public meetings

  • Mildura, VIC  –  10 am Monday 22nd October
  • Swan Hill, VIC  –  10 am Tuesday, 23rd October
  • Kerang, VIC  –  6 pm Tuesday, 23rd October
  • Echuca, VIC  –  10 am Wednesday 24th October
  • Shepparton, VIC  –  6 pm Wednesday 24th October
  • Toowoomba, QLD  –  9 am Monday 29th October
  • St George, QLD  –  9 am Tuesday 30th October
  • Moree, NSW  –  6 pm Tuesday 30th October
  • Dubbo, NSW  –  2 pm Wednesday 31st October
  • Forbes, NSW  –  9 am Thursday 1st November
  • Griffith, NSW  –  6 pm Thursday 1st November
  • Deniliquin, NSW  –  12 pm Friday 2nd November
  • Renmark, SA  –  10 am Monday 5th November
  • Murray Bridge, SA  –  10 am Tuesday 6th November

To attend a meeting, or receive further information, please email mdbwip.consultation@seftons.com.au.

 

Source: Department of Agriculture and Water Resource 2018-10

Basin Plan science strengthened through independent review

An expert independent review has found that the effectiveness of environmental water recovery is not being undermined by changes to the volume of water returning to rivers after use by farmers.

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Head of the MDBA’s Science and Knowledge Division, Colin Mues, said the review was commissioned to improve the evidence base and knowledge of return flows after some stakeholders expressed concerns.

“Much of our work is highly technical and we have always been committed to testing it and improving on it. This means we can all have confidence that the Basin Plan is on track and will deliver a sustainable future for the environment and the communities and industries that rely on it,” Mr Mues said.

“This review looked specifically at how irrigation efficiency projects and growth in groundwater use might affect future river flows.

“Australian Government investment in more efficient irrigation has saved, on average, around 1180 gigalitres (GL) per year with two-thirds of that returned to the environment.

“The review found that more efficient irrigation could potentially reduce river flows by around 120 GL per year, though this is likely to take many years, decades or even centuries to happen. The long delay is because most of this impact would be caused by reductions in groundwater return flows which can take a very long time to change.

“The Murray–Darling Basin Plan is a world first policy that has been designed to be adapted as we go. We will need to closely monitor river flows and the outcomes for the environment to make sure we deliver the results we want to see from the Basin Plan,” Mr Mues said.

“Analysing groundwater impacts is complex because the degree of connection between an aquifer and nearby rivers can vary widely. Groundwater response times can also vary from years to many decades depending on topography and proximity to the rivers.

“Growth in groundwater use, even under optimistic growth scenarios, was found to pose a relatively low risk to the environmental outcomes for the basin’s rivers, streams and floodplains.

“Steady two per cent growth in groundwater use over the next 40 years was estimated to only reduce river flows by about 170 GL a year.

“This might seem to be a large volume of water, but it’s uncertain whether groundwater use will grow that much, and even if it does then the changes will take many years or decades to happen. This gives the MDBA the time to monitor and respond.

“The review also considered the work done to control salinity that dated back to before 2009, and which saw a substantial drop in surface water return flows and consequent improvements to water quality from that time.

“This review is not the end of the process—it is the business of the MDBA to continually incorporate new science into the management of the Basin through the Basin Plan.

“Commissioning and publicly releasing this review is also a demonstration of the MDBA’s long standing commitment to openness and transparency.”

 

Source: MDBA 2018-10

Australia’s citrus industry set for another record year but nurseries run short of tree stock

Citrus growers across Australia have good reason to celebrate, with prices and global demand predicted to hit new records.

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Chairman for Citrus Australia Ben Cant said the industry was booming, with growers getting twice or three times as much for their fruit than they were five years ago, and exports were steadily increasing.

“In 2012/2013 we were looking at $200–300 a tonne, which is about our cost of production … so now we see fantastic returns for growers.”

Sunlands citrus grower Mark Doecke said it had been an exceptional season for growers as weather conditions, fruit quality, and crop quantity had been great.

“Citrus has to be picked when it is dry and above 12 to 13 degrees, so this year with harvest we had no drizzle and no rain,” he said.

“I feel for my brothers in the dryland farming but, as far as citrus picking goes, it’s been excellent for us.”

And as demand is outstripping supply, Australian exports are predicted to have increased by 10 per cent this year.

Mr Cant said last year’s official figures for citrus exports were around $480 million and they were confident to be a bit over $500 million in exports this year.

“We’ve seen positive improvements in all markets, Japan has been about the same but China and the USA are up and pretty much everything across the board.

“Certainly, the demand for navel oranges continues to rise across key export markets like China and Japan.”

Growers benefit with first harvest under new import rules to China

After years of negotiations the Chinese Government recognised the Riverland region as a pest-free area for all horticulture commodities late last year, and the benefits were being felt by citrus growers this harvest.

The fruit-fly free recognition for exports to China means growers do not have to cold-treat their produce, which results in faster and direct shipment and cost savings for growers.

Chair of Citrus Australia SA Region Steve Burdette said it was their biggest competitive advantage where additional cost for cold treatment would not have to be paid anymore.

“The fruit is a lot fresher when you ship it and eating quality is a lot more superior,” Mr Burdette said.

Mr Cant said reasons for the high demand from China was their rising middle class prepared to pay for quality and the recognition of Australia’s citrus as a premium product.

Citrus Australia market access manager David Daniels said there was a 50–60 per cent increase of exports to China from South Australia compared to last season, but this number was based on a low tonnage figure.

“China is the number-one market across the country, but that trade is primarily captured by the Victorian exporters. For South Australia, Japan is still a very strong market,” Mr Daniels said.

“I would have to say everywhere we go, growers are very happy, with some saying prices are better than they have ever experienced in their lifetime.”

Mr Daniels said the global demand for citrus was high due to an undersupply from competitor nations, where growers struggled with pest and disease hitting their produce.

Citrus plantings boom but many nurseries are sold out of trees

As global demand for citrus is expected to be strong, thousands of new citrus tree plantings are going into the ground across the country. But many nurseries are sold out of stock and do not have trees available until early 2020.

Mr Cant said there was a two to three-year wait for nursery stocks.

Chislett Farms nursery manager Jonathan Chislett from the Mallee region in Victoria said demand for trees was very high.

“I don’t have the exact numbers but it might be a couple of hundred thousand trees.”

Mr Chislett said it was the highest demand he had ever seen and, as demand increased, nurseries were increasing their capacity to accommodate for it.

Engelhardt Citrus nursery owner John Engelhardt, located in the Orara Valley in New South Wales said he sold out of stock in July this year and would not be able to supply growers until January 2020.

“There is a lot of demand for citrus trees as the growers are getting reasonable prices for the fruit and also the export markets seem to be lucrative,” Mr Engelhardt said.

Mr Cant said they were concerned about the volumes of trees coming on board but would work hard on opening more export markets

 

Source: ABC Rural 2018-10

Drought aid: Where has the money been allocated and what difference is it making on-farm?

Tens of millions more has been raised by corporations and individuals. But has the money been well spent? Or is it a case of spending good money after bad?

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ABC Rural has been tallying the figures and, while it is not at all a comprehensive list as the drought continues, it shines a light on who is putting in and where the funds are going.

Learning from history

During the millennium drought (from 1996 to the 2000s) the aid bill was a staggering $4 billion.

State and Federal Governments agreed it was a severe drain on the national economy and a new approach was needed that emphasised ‘drought preparedness’.

A great deal of on-farm work has been done since then, funded by government programs, but as the drought bit harder in Queensland and then spread to NSW, Victoria and South Australia, both tiers of government started providing emergency assistance again.

The biggest single ticket item is the concessional loan scheme.

Farmers often say cheap government loans are of little value, but clearly some have leapt in with both feet. Some have borrowed to improve the infrastructure on their farms.

Grazier Richard Wilson is carrying significant land debt and operating overdraft on his farm in the far-west of NSW, and his only income at the moment is from selling feral goats.

Despite his high level of debt, he saw cheap finance from the Government as a way to prepare for when the rain comes.

He said that when the rain did arrive, his improvements would be able to store three times as much water.

So far, 854 farm businesses have been issued with concessional loans — worth $490 million.

Another 71 applications are being processed by the recently established Regional Investment Corporation, which could see another $142 million going out the door soon.

Canberra tops ranking, but farmers critical of some schemes

The Federal Government is the biggest contributor to drought aid with $1.8 billion committed to drought preparedness, emergency support, and low interest loans.

According to Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, the loans are working because “they allow farmers to switch across from higher interest commercial loans, saving them thousands”.

Reducing the interest rate by 2 per cent would save a famer with a million-dollar loan about $20,000 a year.

Meanwhile the Federal Government has provided $15m for the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal (FRRR), which has been quietly injecting small amounts into regional organisations to strengthen local communities, improve facilities and support activities that bring people together.

The next big ticket item for the Federal Government is the Farm Household Allowance (FHA).

It has allocated $534 million to the program but only a tenth of the people who could qualify have actually received it.

Farmers complain the form is too complicated and the criteria too onerous.

The Government has recently simplified the form and relaxed the criteria and there has been a spike in the number of applications in the past three months.

Around $234m has been spent on the FHA since 2014 and the Government says the scheme is uncapped.

State Governments foot a large portion of the bill with a large part of it going into transport subsidies and waivers on a range of State Government fees including council rates, car registration and, in NSW, Local Land Services (LLS) levies.

NSW has also stumped up about a billion dollars to cover drought preparedness, emergency relief, and mental health services.

The states look after animal welfare and stock disposal and the NSW Government has offered transport subsidies up to $20,000 to help farmers bring in fodder and encourage them to move their cattle to agistment or to market.

Queensland has done the same, offering subsidies up to $50,000.

Banking on it

While governments have been providing cheap finance for farmers, the predatory behaviour of the banks during the drought has come under scrutiny in the banking royal commission.

Many of the banks have responded by keeping some branches open in drought areas when they were scheduled for closure and offering a better deal for farmers in drought areas.

That includes discount loan rates, deferring payments, allowing an offset on the interest from farm management deposits, and waivers for break fees or costs associated with increasing or extending loans.

They have also made donations to charities.

Martin North, an analyst from Digital Financial Analytics, said corporate donations were pretty “small beer” in the scheme of things.

Charities piling in

About $50 million has been collected by a large number of drought charities, according to the national drought coordinator Major General Stephen Day.

His priority has been ensuring government policies are effective and that any gaps in support are being addressed, but exact figures on how much money has been raised by charities, who received it, and how it is being spent are hard to find.

“I don’t know how many there are, I don’t know if anyone does, but I have pulled the [24] national charities together,” Major General Day said.

Haste makes waste

According to one contact in the sector, who wished to remain anonymous, the charities are being told to spend the money quickly, but the NFF is warning against that.

Many farmers in NSW will not get a cheque for the winter crop and may not be able to plant a summer crop either if they missed out on recent rain.

There are still many parts of NSW and Queensland in serious drought, where the soil profile is too dry to risk planting a crop with all the expenses that involves.

Farmers in those areas won’t be getting any income for at least another 12 months and that could be the leanest and toughest period of all.

 

Source: ABC Rural 2018-10

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

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