National Farmers' Federation

Farmers need certainty over 'essential' water

TODAY the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) will hold urgent talks with the Australian Government following the Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday that all water allocations – including for permanent plantings and livestock – in the Murray-Darling Basin could stop as of 1 July 2007.
“Farmers recognise that when water levels are so low, the paramount consideration must be securing water supply for basic human needs,” NFF President David Crombie said.
“However, the Prime Minister yesterday also seemed to be ruling out allocations for other essential water use, to keep permanent tree plantings and livestock alive.
“The major inflow period for the southern Murray-Darling Basin is from July to November and this is the time when most irrigation allocations are increased. Irrigators, particularly those who irrigate annual crops, know this well and would expect to commence the 2007/08 irrigation year on zero. We accept that as a sensible measure.
“But if perennial crops (oranges, apples, etc.) and livestock farming are to be denied basic water requirements, the trees will eventually die and the livestock will need to be sold… the economic impact will take up to 10 years before we can hope to recover.
“If the trees and vines die, they will have to be re-planted – taking five-to-seven years before full production returns. Likewise, if livestock producers are forced to sell or destroy their stock, it will take years to rebuild the herd or flock.
“When you consider the Murray-Darling Basin constitutes 40% of the total value of Australian agricultural production, with some 50,000 farmers dependent on the system, we’re talking about a national economic crisis we have not seen before in this country.
“We want to make sure the Government is aware of the dire implications if it takes the drastic step of turning off supply completely. We will be seeking urgent clarification later today on these issues when we meet with Environment and Water Resources Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s Office.
“The Prime Minister’s announcement underscores just how deep and prolonged this current drought is. It is biting all Australians – metropolitan and regional communities, and, especially, the farming sector.
“But we must remain focused.
“Annually, agriculture drives and generates $103 billion in production for the nation (underpinning 12% of GDP), $30 billion in exports, and supports 1.6 million Australian jobs across our cities and regions. We are also responsible for most of the food on Australian supermarket shelves.
“With the Murray-Darling Basin such a huge contributor, if the farm sector – particularly the perennial and livestock growers – is allowed to just wither and die, we’re looking at billions of dollars wiped off the national accounts. There is also the potential impact on employment and, for the first time, Australia may have to turn to imports to feed its people.
“This is not the time for knee-jerk reactions.”

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