Namoi Valley Water restrictions

Victorian National Party leader Peter Walsh says he’ll continue to stand up to his Federal counterparts, in opposing plans to return a further 450gigalitres of water to the environment, under the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

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Mr Walsh told the Victorian Farmers Federation/Rural Press Club leaders debate, in Melbourne, he also believed water could not be delivered to South Australia, without flooding private land.

“We have a party policy that we are opposed to the 450GL, that’s something State conference adopted,” Mr Walsh said.

“It’s something we took to our Federal Council, but while we lost the debate with (Federal Water Minister) David Littleproud, that doesn’t mean we are giving it up.”

Mr Walsh said the Commonwealth Water Act was clear the 450GL could not proceed if there were negative socio-economic impacts on communities.

“In the six years of the history of the Basin Plan, you see the socio-economic damage that’s been done to our communities.

“There’s no way, under that rule, you can proceed with the 450GL, without further damage,” he said.

Constraints strategy

Mr Walsh said he also opposed the Murray Darling Basin Plan’s constraints strategy.

The strategy is designed to enable the acquisition of flood easements, increase the outlet capacity on major dams and storages, fund the raising of bridges, roads and levees, as well as improving water efficiency infrastructure.

Landholders in southern NSW and northern Victoria have argued the strategy has the potential to inundate nearly 1,700 properties and 117,214 hectares throughout the region.

“Every constraints study that had been done had come back and said effectively, ‘we can’t do it’,” he said.

Mr Walsh said no future Coalition government would sign up to deliberately flood private land or acquire flood overlays, required to meet the constraints strategy.

“You cannot get that water down the Murray River, at the times they want to get it down, without flooding private land,” Mr Walsh said. “On two counts, it actually fails.”

He said he believed there would continue to be vigorous debate on the 450GL and constraints management strategy.

“But, in the end, I think we can win it,” he said.

“You know me, I never shy away from a fight, and I’m sure I’ll win it.”

Government view

Agriculture Minister Jaala Pulford told the debate State Water minister Lisa Neville was also one who didn’t shy away from a fight.

“She has worked very closely with our farming communities,” Ms Pulford said.

“The price people are paying for water is causing enormous challenges.

‘”They haven’t had much time to recover from the events of 2016 (milk price step-downs), so we are acutely aware of the socio-economic impact.”

At it’s June meeting, the Water Minister’s council agreed to find off-farm projects, to secure a further 450 gigalitres of environmental water by 2024, ruling out any more on-farm projects in Victoria or NSW.

The Victorian government gained an assurance from the other states and the Commonwealth all parties would work on a socio-economic neutrality test, to assess all projects that could hypothetically contribute to the 450GL, above the Plans 2750GL target.

Ms Neville said the ministers agreed to deliver an additional 62GL to the environment, following the approval of 605GL of environmental offset projects.

“We’re standing up for Victorian irrigators to ensure no expressions of interest are carried out in Victoria for on-farm works, which will just hurt Victorian communities,” Ms Neville said.

Mr Littleproud said Mr Walsh fought hard for his communities “and I support his right to do so.”

The Murray Darling Basin Authority has been contacted for comment.

Source: Stock & Land 2018-11

Frost window pushes later in south eastern Australia

BUREAU of Meteorology (BOM) data has confirmed the frost throughout eastern South Australia and western Victoria on November 8 is one of the latest on record.

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A BOM spokesperson said the reading of -0.1 at Hopetoun was the first time a below zero value had been recorded at that site since it was opened in 2004, while the -0.8 at Longerenong also appears to be the latest recorded frost at that weather station.

Across the border, Loxton recorded temperatures of 0.8, while other centres in the east of the state recorded light frosts.

However, the farming community has suggested the frost has not caused significant damage, with most crops too close to harvest to be impacted.

Instead, it is the frost of October 25 that has proved problematic, with the temperature at Westmere, in the Western District, dropping to -2.5.

Andrew Weidemann, Grain Producers Australia chairman and Rupanyup farmer, said the October frost had smashed Western District wheat crops.

“We’ve been down there baling hay for people who have had to cut their crops and you get out in the crop and there is just nothing in the head, it is as bad as what we saw up here in the Wimmera in 1998,” Mr Weidemann said.

Wheat’s flowering pattern means it can be totally devastated by a frost at the right time, whereas barley’s flowering is spread, meaning more chance of some damage but less of a total wipe-out.

“There is good biomass to the crops and good demand for hay so there will still be an income but given many of these crops had really good yield potential prior to the frost it is disappointing.”

Further north, the October frost also damaged pulse crops that had thrown up extra flowers following reasonable rain earlier in the month.

“There will be some losses in crops such as lentils, but the damage is a lot less than in the wheat crops in the south.”

The stretching of the frost window into almost mid-November in the Wimmera-Mallee is the final part of what has been an exceptional year for frost in the region.

Longerenong recorded an incredible 10 nights below zero in September with a handful of others hovering close to that mark.

The string of frost, combined with the dry, caused many farmers to cut canola crops in particular, while there is some concern there may be undiagnosed frost damage showing up in barley now that harvest is starting, although early reports have suggested yields are not too bad.

“Generally yields are on par with what people expected or even slightly better, although obviously most of the really bad crops were cut for hay,” Mr Weidemann said.

While the November 8 event was unusual for north-western Victoria, the frost window is still open in the Western District, southern NSW and lowland eastern Victoria, along with the Alphine areas where frosts can occur virtually at any stage of the year.

The BOM spokesperson said there had been a significant frost event in sub-alpine eastern Victoria in mid-November 2006, while Rutherglen, near the NSW border, had recorded a reading of 0 exactly on December 4, 1984.

Westmere also recorded a heavy frost, -2, on November 16 this year

Source: StockJournal 2018-11

Dry doesn’t spell end of pulse diseases

It would be reasonable for drought-hit farmers to expect that one small silver lining of the lack of rain would be lower levels of plant disease.

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However, in pulse crops a Victorian pulse pathologist said this has not necessarily been the case.

Josh Fanning, whose position is jointly funded by Agriculture Victoria and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) said while leaf-borne fungal diseases such as the damaging ascochyta blight, had been less prevalent this year there had been other disease problems, in particular with bacterial blight.

“Bacterial blight in field peas has been really damaging in some parts, it has basically taken all yield away from some crop,” Dr Fanning said.

Speaking at the southern pulse agronomy field day near Horsham earlier in the month, Dr Fanning said the disease had been exacerbated by the run of frosts throughout southern Australia in September.

“The frost causes mechanical damage to the plant, the damage caused by the frost to the leaves allows the bacteria in.”

He said once the bacteria were in the plant it changed the cell structure, meaning that warmer temperatures would freeze the plant.

“There have been a lot of cold nights so this has meant the disease has done a lot of damage in some instances, especially in the Wimmera where there were more cold evenings.”

Dr Fanning warned growers that the disease was seed-borne.

“They need to be careful when sourcing seed for next year as the disease travels on the seed and once the crop is sown there are no real treatments; obviously fungicides do not impact a bacterial infection.”

In terms of other diseases, he said there were reports of soil-borne fungal diseases, such as rhizoctonia, especially in lentils and chickpeas, and pythiums (close relatives to fungi).

“Rhizoctonia impacts water uptake and that doubles the impact of a dry year.”

Ironically there were patches, especially in far western Victoria and eastern South Australia where the normal disease drivers of wet and humid conditions saw problems like phytophthora and ascochyta arise.

“During August, although it was not heavy rain it was constant and the leaf area was kept moist, which is conducive to ascochyta, we saw that in parts of the west Wimmera on unsprayed crops,” Dr Fanning said.

Source: StockJournal 2018-11

Cotton crop thrives in the Kimberley after past failures

It’s being described as a possible game changer for farmers and even the pastoral industry in northern Australia — the resurgence of cotton.

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The CSIRO has predicted that if 15,000 hectares of the crop were grown in the Ord region of the Kimberley, it would be worth $80 million.

If the same was done in Queensland, beef spin-offs would grow that figure to $340 million.

Chinese-owned company Kimberley Agricultural Investment (KAI) has got the ball rolling by planting the first commercial-sized cotton crops in the Ord in 40 years.

KAI came to the Ord River growing area in northern Western Australia in 2012, leasing 13,000 hectares of land for 50 years.

“Last year we made a decision to grow 350 hectares of cotton,” CEO Jim Englke said.

“The reason for that and the objective of that is on one hand to look at the commercial side of it, that’s planting cotton in the wet season, but also at the same time have a research and development component where we are looking to finesse the management of cotton in that period of the year.”

CSIRO researcher Stephen Yeates was in Kununurra working on cotton at the time.

“Unfortunately, due to delayed expansion of the scheme and the moratorium on genetically modified crops and some climatic risk issues we hadn’t accounted for [like] when the wet starts early and interferes with picking at that time of year, it never came to anything basically,” he said.

Despite witnessing that failure, he does believe the tide has turned on cotton.

“When you get to most commodities, because they’re not worth a lot per kilogram when you break it down, like grain crops at maybe 20 to 50 cents a kilo, those transport and isolation make them difficult to be profitable,” he said.

“The high-valued horticulture crops often have very small market niches that you can easily saturate.”

The turning point was the development of a genetically modified cotton variety called Bollard III in 2016.

It’s able to withstand the insects that can plague the northern wet season and was part of cotton’s demise last time.

Mr Englke said at a time when pesticides are “almost consigned to history”, genetic modification is essential.

“The technology allows us to do what we are doing,” he said.

“It allows for a more efficient plant, it resists pest attack, [it has] more efficient water use, so there is a lot of upside to the GM technology in terms of cotton.”

Farm manager Luke McKay grew up on a cotton farm in the much more traditional growing area of New South Wales. But he’s now firmly planted in the north and has just returned from Brazil.

Overseas he was studying cotton as part of a Nuffield Scholarship — a prestigious opportunity for industry leaders and innovators to travel the world studying an agricultural topic.

He said there was a lot to learned from the South American growers, particularly about growing cotton in a monsoonal climate.

“Brazil was top of the list for cotton and [I’ve] just been there and had a look around and my head is still spinning,” he said.

“It certainly reaffirms a lot of the theories we have for here and definitely gave us a lot more confidence that our focus at the moment around cotton and how to manage cotton in tropical wet season conditions can be done and can be done very well.”

A major challenge since the formation of the Ord growing scheme is cost, as operating from such a remote part of Australia doesn’t come cheap.

The cotton has to travel 3,500km to Dalby to be ginned, a cost that KAI recognises will not be economical long term.

If they are to have an industry, a processing plant must be built in Kununurra, where the company would like to see more than 10,000 hectares of cotton growing to support a gin.

“Just to build a cotton gin you’ve got to allow yourself two years, so I think in two years we’d have a lot of people, a lot of the local growers, that would be willing to participate,” Mr Englke said.

Also front of mind is community support for growing cotton and its use of water.

“We don’t need a lot of irrigation water to grow a cotton crop,” Mr Yeates said.

“You’re basically finishing it off the last two months with irrigation and that leaves you from harvest in July to October to grow a second crop straight after cotton, which in terms of adding to the rotation and diversifying the system is pretty valuable.”

A boost to the cattle industry

One reason this industry is different from other crops in the region is the possible run-on effects for livestock.

The dominant Kimberley cattle industry is labelling cotton a game changer.

Beef giant Consolidated Pastoral Company already uses the seed from the Ord trial on its west Australian stations to fatten cattle.

CEO Troy Setter said it would seriously boost the cattle game in the north if cotton were to take off.

“The by-products from cotton, the cottonseed meal, is really high in protein and really high in natural oil — it’s a great feed for cattle,” he said.

“But it’s also the flow-on benefits of increased mechanics in the area, increased electricians, better water science.

“[In] Northern Australia, the cattle here really need supplementation with phosphorus and protein and the cost of bringing that from southern Australia is really expensive.

“If we could produce more of that natural plant protein in northern Australia to supplement our cattle, it would help beef production and lower the cost of production.”

Also watching closely is the tight-knit group of Ord farmers ready to pounce if cotton proves its worth.

Fritz Bolten is one of those farmers. His family migrated from Germany when he was 10.

“We’ve tried all crop types and have been searching for one solid base crop,” he said.

“We thought we had it with sugar, we thought chia might be that, and we are really looking for that solid rotation so that we can continue with these niche crops and do the exciting stuff as well.”

He has started preparing for cotton and even buying equipment.

“I actually bought the cotton planter two years ago and we’re now re-lasering fields to make sure in a year or two when we do get the opportunity to plant cotton, we’re going to do a really good job of it,” he said.

Grain giant determined for success

It’s not just Western Australia that has shown an interest in northern cotton.

In north Queensland, grain giant Ron Greentree is in his third commercial season.

He leased Strathmore Station near Georgetown in Queensland with Scott Harris.

“We decided last year that we could keep doing trials until the cows come home, but we just needed to do a commercial-sized crop, so last year we decided to put a thousand hectares in,” he said.

Flood damage has meant the results are not what they had hoped, but Mr Greentree remains optimistic about the industry, although he also concedes a gin would need to be built in north Queensland.

“At the moment we are taking it to Emerald which is 1,200km and that’s costing us $100 a lint bale, so it’s just ridiculous to be wasting that amount of money on transporting it,” he said. “It’s like the chicken and egg.

“Unless you’ve got enough cotton it’s not worth building a gin, but if you haven’t got the gin you can’t increase your acres.”

Despite having all his previous success in southern growing areas, Mr Greentree said encompassing the north in future agriculture plans in Australia was a necessity.

“We can do this and I’m sure we can make it successful,” he said. “Are we going to make a lot of mistakes? Of course we are. Am I spending too much money? Yes I am.

“But I think there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

Source: Irrigation Australia 2018-11

Basin plan meetings cause tension

We are not being heard. That was the message delivered by irrigators, councillors, dairy farmers and locals as three meetings about the Murray-Darling Basin Plan were held in just two days across the region.

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Tension was apparent at the meetings, with individuals frustrated at continually delivering the same message at seemingly endless meetings.

The Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources was again holding meetings regarding the neutrality test for the 450Gl of ‘up-water’, visiting the towns of Swan Hill and Rochester.

Meanwhile, the Murray River Group of Councils attended a meeting in Echuca about the basin plan.

The meetings in Rochester and Swan Hill came after Federal Water Minister David Littleproud demanded his department return to regions after an earlier round of meetings were plagued by complaints of a lack of notice and information.

More than 260 people have attended six meetings at Shepparton, Echuca, Swan Hill, Rochester, Deniliquin and Kerang in recent weeks, as work to establish a test to determine the socio-economic impact of further water recovery and water efficiency projects continues.

At the Rochester meeting held on Friday the message was clear — no more water can be recovered from the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District without putting the future viability of the region at greater risk.

‘‘What we’re dealing with is a shrinking pool of consumptive water in the GMID that we have to live on now,’’ Tallygaroopna dairy farmer Natalie Akers said.

‘‘The angst around the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is much greater than just (the 450Gl),’’ Mrs Akers said.

‘‘We are hearing this continuous rhetoric about how we have to deliver the plan in full … well, I don’t think the intention of the plan was to destroy irrigation communities.’’

Several irrigators echoed Mrs Akers’ concerns, with a number airing their frustrations about continually having the same arguments to no avail.

Kim McGillivray, who runs an organic dairy farm at Patho (south-west of Torrumbarry) with her husband Henry, said the outcome of the basin plan had the potential to affect the future of the entire industry.

‘‘If there’s no future for water there’s no industry,’’ Ms McGillivray said.

‘‘Even on a good year the water is just not there, it’s quite depressing. You’d rather just pack up shop and go when you’re still young enough to do something else.’’

VFF Water Council chair Richard Anderson questioned what was to stop other states from undertaking water efficiency projects under the plan to achieve the 450Gl, only to later purchase water from the Victorian water market when their irrigation needs increased.

Without work undertaken to raise constraints, Mr Anderson said much of the water recovered for environmental use could not even be sent down the river without flooding over the banks.

‘‘How do we stop bleeding water out of the GMID?’’ he said.

Conducted by the Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources and consultancy group Sefton and Associates, the public meetings are seeking community and industry views on potential additional assessment criteria for on-farm water efficiency projects to ensure they produce neutral or positive social and economic outcomes.

Councils say ‘hands off’

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan was the top of the agenda in Echuca last week as 13 councils, two regional peak bodies and the Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources met to discuss the plan.

Covering 20 local government areas and representing 483224 people across northern Victoria and southern NSW, council representatives from as far afield as Griffith were in attendance.

Murray River Group of Councils executive officer Geoff Turner said he came away from the meeting as positive as he could be.

The MRGC delivered a strong message — our communities are clear any additional water recovery from the consumptive pool will have negative impacts on our region.

‘‘There was a lot of cynicism in the room but it was encouraging that everyone from a local government perspective was on the same page — keep your hands off the 450Gl,’’ Mr Turner said.

They said the community’s resilience and ability to adapt had been reduced by years of water reform and any further water recovery through on-farm projects risked pushing industry in the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District to collapse, in particular dairy and its ability to produce food staples relied upon by millions.

The councils were firm in their opinion that any future water recovery must be strategic and that no water should be recovered unless it was aligned with the easing of constraints to ensure water could be delivered to the Lower Lakes and the Murray mouth in South Australia.

Mr Turner said he had grave concerns the Federal Government would push on ahead with the recovery of the 450Gl.

‘‘The MRGC has worked with and advocated for our northern Victorian irrigation communities on water and the basin plan for 12 years,’’ he said.

‘‘We support the plan as the best way to balance competing needs for water in our region, but we note the way it is implemented can mitigate or magnify the negative impacts on our communities.’’

Source: Irrigation Australia 2018-11

Wine maker gives Murray wetland a drink with Commonwealth water

Native birds, fish, river red gums and black box trees have made a significant comeback on a Ramsar-listed Murray River wetland, thanks to a unique agreement for a private company to deliver Commonwealth water for the environment on its property.

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The water has been used by Banrock Station to help revitalise and support the 1,500 hectare wetland and floodplain on the wine-making property near Barmera in South Australia’s Riverland.

The Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder (CEWH) Jody Swirepik and Banrock’s owners signed an agreement on Friday to continue the environmental watering program for a further five years.

“This new agreement is a demonstration of how the Australian Government and private businesses can work together to protect and restore crucial wetlands, vegetation and habitat for native species,” Ms Swirepik said.

“The partnership also shows us all how the careful use of water for the environment can help crucial areas revive and thrive, improve sustainability, and leave a wonderful legacy for future generations to enjoy.

“Banrock Station’s wetland and floodplains are home to 284 species of plants and are an important habitat for 171 species of birds, including the threatened regent parrot, along with 47 species of reptiles, 13 species of mammals, nine species of fish and eight species of amphibians.

“The Basin Plan came about because it was recognised that too much water was being extracted from the rivers to sustain them. This partnership is one demonstration of how the water that has been recovered to help the environment is delivering tangible benefits.”

Banrock Station Wetland Manager Tim Field said sharing water to protect the environment was good for local ecology and the economy.

“The wetland was in a poor state when Banrock Station first intervened, buying water to help red gums and black box eucalypts which were struggling to survive the millennium drought,” Mr Field said.

“Since 2015, when Banrock Station and the CEWH first worked together to deliver water under the Murray–Darling Basin Plan, the area has become one of Australia’s hotspots for native birdlife.”

The wetland watering events mimic the natural flows and build resilience for native plants, fish and wildlife for potential dry conditions.

Australian Government Threatened Species Commissioner Dr Sally Box said the partnership would improve the habitat for the nationally threatened regent parrot and southern bell frog, and other species.

“By working together, we can make a real difference and improve the outlook for some of our endangered native species,” she said. 

Source: Farm Online 2018-11

National Water Infrastructure Development Fund expanded by more than $500 million

On 19 November 2018, the Australian Government announced an expansion of the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund by more than half a billion dollars.

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This expansion includes commitments of:

  • up to $250,000 to co-fund the establishment of management arrangements, finalisation of the design and completion of the regulatory and statutory approval processes needed for the Coldstream Recycled Water Pipeline to progress to construction (VIC)
  • up to $1 million to co-fund the completion of the regulatory approval processes, including the final business case, design and Environmental Impact Statement, required for the Southern Forest Irrigation Scheme to progress to construction (WA)
  • up to $2 million for a feasibility study to assess options to build new water infrastructure to increase water supply and security in the North and South Burnett regions (QLD)
  • up to $54 million for Hells Gates Dam including Rig Rocks Weir (QLD)
  • up to $182 million for the Hughenden Irrigation Scheme (QLD)

The over $1 billion National Water Infrastructure Development Fund (the fund) is implementing the Australian Government’s commitment to build the water infrastructure of the 21st century.

The fund is accelerating the detailed planning and construction of water infrastructure projects that will deliver new and affordable water, enhance water security and help stimulate regional economic development including through primary industries and new and expanded agriculture.

Applications are open for Expressions of Interest (EOI) from state and territory governments for funding under the drought round of the fund. For information about the drought round, refer to the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund Drought Round  webpage.

Funding from the fund is only available to state and territory governments through bilateral schedules in accordance with the Federal Financial Relations Act 2009. Existing schedules are available on the Council on Financial Relations National Partnerships—Environment webpage.

Structure of the fund

The fund has two parts:

  • A feasibility component
  • A capital component

Capital Component

The capital component of the fund is available to state and territory governments to provide co‑funding contributions to support the construction of water infrastructure projects that will provide secure and affordable water.

A list of projects that have received co-funding contributions under the capital component of the fund is available on the water infrastructure projects webpage.

Drought Round

Applications are open for Expressions of Interest from state and territory governments for funding through the $72 million drought round under the fund. For information on project eligibility and how to apply, please refer to the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund Drought Round webpage.

Future Capital Funding Rounds

Applications are closed for Expressions of Interest from state and territory governments for capital funding rounds.

Information about future funding rounds under the capital component of the fund will be released soon including Guidelines containing details about eligibility, assessment criteria and how to apply.

Timing for future assessment rounds will be notified via this webpage. State and territory governments will be informed of any changes or additions to Assessment Dates. The Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities may alter assessment timeframes at its discretion.

Feasibility Component

The feasibility component is available to state and territory governments to provide funding contributions to support feasibility studies to accelerate the detailed planning and business case development necessary to inform future water infrastructure investment decisions.

Applications are closed for Expressions of Interest from state and territory governments for feasibility study funding through the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund.

Further information about the feasibility component of the fund and the studies that have received funding is available on the feasibility studies page.

Northern Australia

The White Paper on Developing Northern Australia identifies that conditions in northern Australia present challenges, especially a lack of water resource assessments at the catchment level, which pose a barrier to water infrastructure development.

In contrast, southern Australia has an extensive range of scientific and technical research available, and generally has the necessary supporting infrastructure and functioning water markets in place.

In recognising northern Australia’s unique circumstances, $467.2 million has been committed to water infrastructure feasibility studies and construction projects in northern Australia.

Included in this commitment is the recently completed $15 million Northern Australia Water Resource Assessment (NAWRA), which investigated the potential of water and soil resources to support increased primary production in three priority northern catchments.

More information is available on the CSIRO NAWRA showcase.

Background

The Australian Government is delivering on its over $3 billion commitment to build the water infrastructure of the 21st century through the $1.08 billion National Water Infrastructure Development Fund and the $2 billion National Water Infrastructure Loan Facility.

The fund was announced in the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper and the White Paper on Developing Northern Australia.

The creation of these initiatives followed the release of the Water Infrastructure Options Paper PDF: 1793 KB by the Water Infrastructure Ministerial Working Group.

This group, and these initiatives, recognise that water regulation, planning and management is generally the responsibility of the state and territory governments but that the Australian Government can, through targeted funding, play a valuable role in supporting water infrastructure projects that:

  • Have strong state or territory government support.
  • Are in the national interest.
  • Deliver net economic and social benefits and broader public benefits.

Source: Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities 2018-11

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

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