There’s a hole in our bucket

By Deniliquin Pastoral Times

A severely low rice crop is expected to be grown in the Riverina region this year, and Ricegrowers Association of Australia chairman Jeremy Morton said the blame is squarely on the shoulders of water policy decision makers.

Mr Morton, who is a rice farmer at Moulamein, said the ‘‘hole’’ in NSW’s bucket of water for irrigation is due to the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement.

He said it is inconceivable and unacceptable that its current water sharing framework has resulted in the share of water in the Murray system being reduced by 40,000 megalitres.

He said this must be recognised and acknowledged by the Murray Darling Basin Ministerial Council (MinCo) in order for a conversation to start about how the water resources could be shared more equitably.

‘‘In its simplest terms South Australia’s bucket of water has been full since April, the Victorian bucket continues to fill while the New South Wales bucket has a hole in it,’’ Mr Morton said.

‘‘The RGA is convinced that a myriad of small and not so small changes to rules and codifying of water sharing arrangements is significantly impacting the share of the water resource allocated to New South Wales.’’

‘‘The conversation will be a difficult one, but a good starting point is for MinCo to acknowledge that concessions have been made over many decades by new South Wales which have led to this intolerable situation.

‘‘We ask that MinCo commit to renegotiating provisions of the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement to address the inequity of the current water sharing arrangements.

‘‘We’re no closer to an allocation and technically we went backwards with 40,000 megalitres less to New South Wales.’’

Mr Morton said without any improvement to the water sharing rules and water policy soon, the nation’s ability to feed the world will be severely reduced.

The Pastoral Times understands that a crop of only 100,000 hectares is being predicted for the coming rice season.

SunRice is reluctant to release a tonnage prediction yet, saying it is ‘‘too early to provide an accurate forecast about 2019’’, but did concede it will be a ‘‘significantly lower crop’’ due to drought, low water allocation and high water prices.

Mr Morton said farmers need an irrigation allocation now, ‘‘before it’s too late’’.

‘‘Farmers would usually sow from mid-October to about the first week in November and shorter seasoned varieties can be sown at the end of November, but after that it really starts to risk the yield.

‘‘Farmers are great, they can get a crop in very quickly but the critical thing is getting water into people’s accounts.

‘‘Some people have water from last year or finishing off the winter crops who committed to having a season, but there’s not a whole lot of people in that position.

‘‘I don’t know the exact numbers (of the expected rice crop) but I’m pretty sure it will be low.’’

A SunRice spokesperson said the company is hoping farmers can still take advantage of the extended planting window.

‘‘Short season varieties developed by SunRice offer rice growers the flexibility and options to respond to changing conditions and sow rice as late as the end of November or early December should rain and increased water allocations prevail,’’ the spokesperson said.

‘‘SunRice specifically developed these short season varieties so that growers could take advantage of late water allocations.

‘‘SunRice is prepared for the current drought and is already implementing mitigation strategies to minimise its impacts on our operations and to protect the company.’’