Without access to water Riverina irrigators face failed crops and more than a year without an income.
The dire prediction comes as the drought extends further south and skyrocketing water prices make it unviable for many irrigation farmers to plant summer crops, joining dryland operators who are at the mercy of Mother Nature.
“We’re looking at a failed year at this stage and it will be 18 months before there’s a chance for another income,” Southern Riverina Irrigators chair Gabrielle Coupland said.
“There won’t be summer crops planted, there’s just not enough water for a summer crop.”
The price of temporary water has tripled to $370 a megalitre in the Murray Valley, more than three times the long term average of $120.
Irrigators are urging regulators to make some of the up to 500Gl stored for Murray River flows available now as a short-term borrow in an attempt to save already planted crops and fodder.
Farrer MP Sussan Ley this week raised the urgent issue with the Environmental Water Holder, the Murray Darling Basin Authority and the Agriculture Minister David Littleproud.
“General security irrigators who are on a zero allocation because of the drought should be able to access an early borrow of this water which enables them to rescue their winter crops,” Ms Ley said.
“It’s a comparatively small amount of water for a huge return and the upside is many of them are growing fodder which is of use in the drought.
“This is not taking water from the environment. It is not an either/or proposition.
“If the environment doesn’t need the water yet but farmers do it makes sense for farmers to enter into an arrangement with the holder of this water in order to access it urgently.
“We need to find a parcel of water and I don’t care who owns it. I just want to make sure that these crops get watered and that the necessary bureaucratic details are sorted in a hurry.”
NSW Water and Environment Departments have joint responsibility for management of state holdings. They could potentially facilitate an early release into the Murray River to provide allocation for General Security holders, which would be paid back later.
It’s a compara- tively small amount of water for a huge returnSusan Ley, Member for Farrer
Ms Ley said the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, another potential irrigation source, “seems unwilling to assist at this point”.
Mrs Coupland, who runs a mixed irrigation and dryland farm with her husband Mark at Finley, said many farmers were now putting stock onto winter crops. She believed access to affordable water now could be the difference between getting a return and writing off the year.
“The issue is timing,” she said. “There’s water in the dam now that’s being stored for environmental or future purposes, and we have crops in the ground now.
“If we can have access to that water now it would mean we could produce fodder and grain and be part of the drought solution before we become part of the problem.”