Irrigation farmers to trade or use excess water before month end

Irrigation farmers in the eastern Riverina will have until the end of the month to decide whether they wish to use their excess water or trade it.

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The annual water deadline is rapidly approaching. For those Murrumbidgee customers looking to trade excess water interstate, the deadline to do so will be 11:59pm on April 30.

Alternatively, those wishing to trade within the Murrumbidgee area will have until 11:59pm on May 31.

Under stipulation of the state’s Water Sharing Plan, licence holders will be at risk of forfeiting excess if unused by the expiration.

Those subscribing to the use of both regulated and unregulated water, including groundwater, will have until June 30 to make the necessary provisions.

Customers may have already received correspondence from WaterNSW notifying them of their options as the water year comes to a conclusion.

WaterNSW executive manager of customer and community, David Stockler, said it was a matter of reminding users of their rights and responsibilities in accordance with the rules.

“We are acting to ensure customers are aware of the potential implications,” Mr Stockler said.

“This approach reflects our commitment to continuing to enhance our levels of service and striving to make it easier for our customers as they go about running their businesses.”

Water fees are determined by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal, and are current for the period between July 1, 2018 and June 30, 2019.

An annual fee increase is expected, based on changes to the consumer price index.

The trading of water, especially interstate, is subject to a variety of party approvals.

Licence holders are required to submit an application to WaterNSW ahead of delivery.

Applications may be accessed by visiting https://www.waternsw.com.au/customer-service/ordering-trading-and-pricing/trading.

More information can be accessed via the WaterNSW helpdesk on 1300 662 077.

Source: The Rural 2019-04

Olive growers face challenges with limited water and extreme heat

Multiple hot spells with temperatures above 45 degrees, and little to no rainfall, are just some of the challenges olive producers battled this season.

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Key points:

  • The olive industry association says some producers have left due to water cost and access issues
  • Lack of water means some olives might be smaller this season
  • Growers with good water access are reporting great quality oil and harvest

With harvest starting in some parts of South Australia, some farmers are now seeing fruit that has not developed to full size or has shrivelled due to the lack of water.

Despite the seasonal challenges, many have managed to still grow good quality and above-average olive crops.

Australian Olive Association CEO Greg Seymour said he believed regions reliant on rainfall saw crop reductions, but even growers who had a good supply of water saw above-average crops.

“In these periods of hot spells in South Australia we lost a lot of flower and we lost a lot of fruit,” Mr Seymour said. “Overall, we might be just on the high side of an average year.

Water supply challenges growers

Olive grower and marketing manager of Prema Bros in the Adelaide Plains, Domenic Catanzariti, said their crop was looking good, but some fruit was quite small because it did not have any rainfall since November.

They had top quality oil content come from their olives this season.

“We are really happy with the yield and our oil content was 30 per cent this year. Last year we got 22 per cent, so our oil volume was up,” Mr Hefford said. “It’s really bitter, it is high in polyphenols count which keeps longer and is just a better-quality oil.

“With next year’s water restrictions I am not sure how much water we will end up with.

“That might play a bigger part in it for us next year, not being able to irrigate as much, but let’s hope that we get some rain.”

Mr Seymour said several producers have left the olive industry in recent times due to the high cost of water and limited water access.

“Producers are looking for the highest value return they can get per megalitre, and there are other crops around at the current time paying a higher return than growing olives,” he said.

High-density groves cut labour costs

Mr Hefford diversified into growing a super high-density olive grove in 2015 — not only to mechanically harvest but also to save on costs.

He said many growers in the Riverland left the industry because they had traditional groves, where plantings where further apart and a lot of hand labour was involved.

“If you’ve got traditional groves and you are racking them off, or handpicking, or even your side-by-side shakers, they are a lot slower.

“It ends up costing you a lot more money to produce the product and the returns aren’t high enough to cover the excess in wages and extra freight costs and all the things that go along with that.”

He said many olive growers around the world, even in traditional olive growing areas such as Spain and Italy, were converting to high-density groves due to the faster harvesting process and higher crop volumes per hectare.

Source: ABC Rural 2019-04

Downpour fills dams, soaks paddocks in drought-hardened far western NSW over Easter

After two years of crippling drought, graziers in far western New South Wales had their prayers answered at the Easter long weekend.

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Widespread rain filled dams and soaked paddocks from Bourke to Menindee, with up to 75 millimetres falling in some areas.

Bourke resident Leanne Davis, whose family has been documenting the dry, welcomed the soaking rain.

“Now we have lovely, fresh water that doesn’t smell anymore!” she said.

Dry conditions have slowed Peter Ponder’s sheep operation to a stand-still over the past two years.

“I’ll be spending the day today with a jigsaw puzzle and a few movies,” said the grazier from Emaroo Station, near Wanaaring.

He said his country is in the worst shape it has ever been.

“Our country is looking desperate,” he said.

With cool weather approaching, Mr Ponder hopes the weekend’s rain will lead to good pasture growth and put an end to his daily routine of hand-feeding his stock.

“This rain has certainly lifted our spirits,” he said.

Most unsealed roads are closed around the township of Wanaaring today after 50mm fell in the district.

But according to local store owner Ben Strong “no-one’s complaining”.

“Last year our total rainfall for the year was 85mm, and in the past 24 hours we have had over 50mm,” he said.

About 75mm fell on Easter Monday at Trilby Station on the Darling River near Louth.

Station owner Liz Murray said there was now more that 5 centimetres of water in the river, which was dry enough to play cricket in just two days ago.

“We’re absolutely ecstatic,” she said.

Mrs Murray and her family have been hand-feeding their Merino sheep for the past 20 months at a cost of $130,000 a month.

“Our next trigger point for selling more sheep was yesterday, so we’re very happy we’ve had this rainfall.”

Source: ABC News 2019-04

Labor pledges inquiry into controversial water buyback deals

Labor has said it will push ahead with plans to set up an inquiry into  taxpayer-funded water buybacks, after a request for documents.

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Key points:

  • Shadow Water Minister Tony Burke says Agriculture Department’s failure to provide details shows coercive powers are required
  • Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has called for a review of all water buybacks under the Murray-Darling Basin plan since 2008
  • Mr Burke said Labor welcomes that review but it would not have the power to compel witnesses to testify

Shadow Water Minister Tony Burke said the Agriculture Department’s failure to provide details by close of business showed coercive powers are required to investigate the deal.

In 2017, the Government spent $80 million to acquire the water rights to two properties in Queensland.

The money was paid to Eastern Australia Agriculture (EAA), which is controlled by a company based in the Cayman Islands — a well-known tax haven.

Barnaby Joyce, who was the water minister at the time and who signed off on the deal, maintains he did nothing wrong.

Labor has pledged to launch a judicial inquiry into the controversial water buyback deals if it wins government.

Mr Burke denied the investigation is politically motivated, despite suggesting it won’t extend to Labor’s time in office.

“On this particular issue, the questions that are being asked on this — and [that] the Government is refusing to shed a light on — have not been questions asked of any other minister,” he said.

Mr Burke was the minister for the environment and water from 2010 to 2013.

Calls for review of all buybacks since 2008

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has written to the Auditor-General calling for a review of all water buybacks under the Murray Darling Basin Plan since 2008.

The review would look at all deals struck under Labor and Coalition governments during that time.

Mr Burke said Labor welcomes that review but it would not have the power to compel witnesses to testify.

It is still not known who the investors within the Cayman Islands company are, or who ultimately benefitted from the 2017 buybacks.

“You set up companies in the Cayman Islands — one of the reasons is for the secrecy that’s attached to it and that means only an inquiry with coercive powers can get to the bottom of who was actually involved,” Mr Burke said.

Mr Joyce said the Opposition also made purchases from EAA and demands the same questions be put to them.

“The trouble with the Labor Party is they were first. So whatever they did, they did first. And we were following their precedent because they sold it to them,” he said.

Under the former Labor government and in the early years of the Abbott prime ministership, all buybacks were under open tender.

Owners would register the price they would be prepared to sell for and the department would decide which offer provided best value for money.

However, there were concerns from some communities that this led to job losses and in 2015 Mr Joyce changed that process.

Since then, the Government has only bought water from willing sellers through direct negotiation with entitlement holders.

Source: ABC News 2019-04

Lake Eyre could be fullest since 1974 but Murray-Darling Basin missing out

A cold front on Good Friday, has helped trigger widespread heavy rainfall for drought-stricken western Queensland and north-west New South Wales.

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There’s been some pretty impressive totals — Wilcannia has recorded more than 70mm, Burrawantie homestead near Bourke (59mm), and Cunnamulla (47mm) — with more forecast today.

But while the rain is the latest in a soggy start to 2019 for western Queensland, Paul Lainio, a hydro-meteorologist (water and weather expert) at the Bureau of Meteorology, said there was mixed news on where all the water was flowing and what it meant for the drought.

In late January and early February there was the now-infamous low-pressure system in an active monsoon trough that settled across northern Queensland.

“That was a period where we saw really, really significant floods in Townsville and also through the Flinders River; massive rainfall through that very far northern area,” Mr Lainio said.

This rain was devastating in terms of property damage and large stock losses, however it brought relief for some people downstream.

“We had some very good falls extend into the north of the Diamantina River catchment, and that’s one of the rivers that flows down towards South Australia and eventually turns into the Warburton River and flows into Lake Eyre.”

That hasn’t been all.

“That rainfall was then followed during March, with ex-Tropical Cyclone Trevor moving through the Northern Territory and then across south-west Queensland,” he said.

“That produced very large falls through the catchment of the Georgina River and Eyre Creek and into the Diamantina and the Cooper as well, with a little bit of rainfall also heading into the Paroo and Bulloo river catchments.”

Thankfully this rainfall from Trevor’s remnants was less devastating, Mr Lainio said.

“It was more good news for farmers who rely on that floodplain to fill up occasionally and to really produce good conditions for grazing.”

Lake Eyre set to be its fullest since 1974

It’s already looking good and it’s about to get better.

Mr Lainio said the rain over recent days probably would not have a significant impact on Lake Eyre, but things were already in swing thanks to the combination of those aforementioned big rainfall events.

Thanks to the monsoonal rain, the lake was probably around half-full at the moment, he said.

So the next question is how much more will Trevor add?

“There’s not much more inflow happening now. We’ll need to wait, say, a month to six weeks before we see further inflows reaching Lake Eyre.

“In this case, we don’t believe the Thompson-Barcoo has enough flow to reach Lake Eyre. It will fill a place called the Coongie Lakes.”

The Diamantina River wasn’t flowing as much as it did the first time around either, Mr Lainio added, but Eyre Creek was showing promise.

“The Eyre Creek system is in a big, big flood this time around,” he said.

“It’s wending its way towards South Australia, moving through some very dry land, so a lot of that will be absorbed on its way to Lake Eyre, but we still believe some will make it.

“We think around three-quarters full might be where the lake ends up in June.

“Then given the large amount of water accumulated in Lake Eyre, we think it will still be around right through winter and well into spring.”

Three-quarters full! That would definitely make this year one for the record books.

Mr Lainio said the last big flood year for Lake Eyre was in 2010 when it was around a third full.

“Certainly, it’s fuller than we saw in 2010 already. It may be that what we’re seeing, with these two events contributing to the inflows, is the fullest lake since 1974.

“1974 was a very wet year indeed and the lake was considered to be full — so this event may be the fullest since then. It is certainly a very significant event.”

The Darling and the drought

The Lake Eyre Basin may have been getting a drenching, but sadly the Murray-Darling has largely missed out.

Mr Lainio reiterated that while the Bureau of Meteorology didn’t officially declare droughts, it kept an eye on rainfall deficiencies. For parts of western Queensland, it is looking good.

“Certainly, some of the longer-term rainfall deficiencies through western and northern Queensland, they’ve largely been reduced,” he said.

“But as far as parts of southern and south-eastern Queensland and adjacent New South Wales, they’re still really quite dry.

“We may have had this recent event through the area, but that really hasn’t had a big effect on the longer-term rainfall deficiencies, so there’s still a bit of work to be done through there.”

When it comes to the river itself, things aren’t much better.

“It looks like the Darling might get a little bit of flow, but the region is very, very dry, so a lot of the flow will be eaten up by billabongs and braided channels and dry land,” Mr Lainio said.

What would it take to get the Darling going again?

Well, a lot. A lot. A lot.

Mr Lainio said it would take an event similar to the one we saw with the monsoon low — hundreds of millimetres over a very short period of time — or a series of significant falls.

“In this event we’re only looking at falls in the order over 100mm. When we look at the rainfall maps that we saw through Queensland in the past three months, they were looking at upwards of 400mm to 1,500mm of rainfall — a much different scale.

“You’d certainly need more rain through the Murray-Darling Basin catchment to really see those river systems get some good inflows through there.”

Source: ABC News 2019-04

Re-assessing the quantity and quality of farm water

As the dry conditions continue, Agriculture Victoria is advising producers to re-assess and double-check farm-water budgets and plans.

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Agriculture Victoria Animal Industries Development Officer Richard Smith said availability and quality of water are key factors for productivity, health and welfare of livestock.

“Livestock water requirements vary and can be influenced by type/class of stock, activity level, climate and environmental conditions, feed, and water,” Mr Smith said.

Mr Smith also recommends producers monitor the proportion of dissolved salts in any water source, as it is the main factor influencing water quality.

“The maximum salt concentration for healthy production for dairy cattle is 2500 ppm, higher levels will cause decline in production and impact animal health,” Mr Smith said.

“During summer and early autumn, the rate of water evaporation can result in a significant increase in dam salt concentration. If you are also feeding salt-based licks or by-products, you will need to factor in their salt components.

“High salt content will increase water intake, and can cause abdominal pain, loss of appetite, diarrhea and increased urination.

“Excessive salt concentration can cause death within six to 24 hours.”

Producers also need to be aware of the risk of high sediment loads and pollution, as manure, dust, and vegetation are blown or deposited into the water body. This can reduce the appeal to stock due to unpleasant smell, therefore reducing uptake.

Manure build-up, vegetation decay, and dead animals in water sources can increase the risk of diseases occurring including, E. coli and botulism.

“One study confirmed yearling cattle drinking clean water gained between 20 and 23 per cent more weight than those drinking contaminated water,” Mr Smith said.

“The same study found calves whose mothers were drinking clean water, were nine per cent heavier than calves feeding from cows drinking unclean water.”

The combination of low dam levels, high nutrient load, and high temperatures also increases the risk of algae blooms in late summer and early autumn.

These factors can cause excessive growth of algae which can block pipes and make the water unpalatable to stock. Producers need to be mindful of the animal health risk posed by blue-green algae.

“Depending on the toxicity of the bloom and the concentration of the toxin, between a few mouthfuls and several litres of water may be ingested before livestock show signs of poisoning,” Mr Smith said.

“It is also essential to understand your water quality and quantity if feeding higher than normal levels of grain or by-products.

“Livestock poorly adjusted to grain with poor quality or quantity water, are at an increased risk of grain poisoning.”

Re-assessing the quantity and quality of water on your properties, will allow producers to get the most out of the months ahead.

Producers may be eligible for On-Farm Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebate Scheme which offers a one-off 25 per cent rebate up to $25,000 (GST exclusive) to eligible primary producers for the costs associated with the purchase and installation of on-farm water infrastructure.

For further information visit website www.ruralfinance.com.au and click on On-Farm Emergency Water Infrastructure Rebate Scheme.

For information regarding water testing laboratories go to: agriculture.vic.gov.au search for ‘water quality testing’, or in northern Victoria contact Richard Smith on 0436 803 765 or richard.m.smith@ecodev.vic.gov.au and in Gippsland contact Benita Kelsall on 0429 353 649 or benita.kelsall@ecodev.vic.gov.au.

For more information about our support to dairy farmers preparing for dry seasonal conditions contact Brett Davidson on (03) 5833 5206 or visit agriculture.vic.gov.au/dryseasons.

Source: Agriculture Victoria 32019-04

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

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