Questions over Murray nut crops

Concerns over Sunraysia horticulture


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Planned horticultural developments in the Sunraysia region had the potential to “smash” farmers in the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District (GMID), according to a Mildura grape grower.

Planned horticultural developments in the Sunraysia region had the potential to “smash” farmers in the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District (GMID), according to a Mildura grape grower.

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Sunraysia Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) water council representative Bill McClumpha said it was predicted new plantings, particularly nut growing, would require between 1500 and 2000 gigalitres (GL) of water.

“That is going to use a lot of water from the southern connected basin, and a substantial proportion will come from the GMID.

“When that development is substantially under way, and there is a low rainfall event or a sequence of dry years, it’s just going to smash the GMID.”

Mr McClumpha told the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) Echuca water forum, water being taken out of the Basin for the environment was “insignificant” when compared with what could be taken out under the Sunraysia Modernisation Project Two (SMP2).

“The government is absolutely committed to that new development, they are red hot for it, and the dairy industry can’t take a stance against any development, because there is no particular development which is more deserving than other developments.

“All the heat is on the Basin Plan, instead of the impact that development is going to have.”

The Victorian government’s independent socio-economic report on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, released in Echuca, found grapevines were the main irrigated horticultural crop, in the southern connected Basin.

“There has been a recent decline in vineyard area,” the reports authors found.

“By contrast there has been a steady increase in the total area of tree crops, particularly almonds, since the Basin Plan commenced.

“The total area of irrigated grapevines peaked around 2006, before the Plan commenced, with the end of the wine boom.”

The report found nut tree plantings in the Mallee went from 1,900 hectares in 1997 to 20,900ha in 2015.

Grapevine plantings had dropped - as a result of low wine prices, low water availability and high water prices - to 20,500ha in 2015.

Almonds were being developed in growing systems using more than 14 ML/ha.

“Consequently, while the area of irrigated horticulture has grown significantly, irrigation intensity, in terms of ML/ha, has grown even more significantly since 1997,” the report’s authors found.

But Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) water council chairman Richard Anderson said resolution did not lie with the state government.

“The state government cannot turn around and say, ‘righto’ we are not going to allow any more water to permanently transfer to Sunraysia; they don’t have that power.”

“This is not about (Water minister) Lisa Neville or the state government being able to stop that. The Australian Competition and Consumer Council (ACCC) water trading rules do not give the state the opportunity to stop that trade.

He said the channel capacity of the Murray River was a greater constraint.

“There is no other way to stop all of this development, other than natural constraints and channel capacity.”

He said water had also been flowing back into the GMID, from South Australia.

“We had 13,000 megs of water come from South Australia, come back into Victoria – it’s moving both ways, and that’s the free trade market,” Mr Anderson said.

He said he had asked the Department of Environment, Land Water and Planning to review the effects of the proposed developments.

Water minister Lisa Neville said the government was not in the business of “picking winners and losers.

She agreed Victoria traded in a lot more water from New South Wales and South Australia, “so it is not just taking water from the GMID, but we will need to keep monitoring that,” Ms Neville said.

SUNRAYSIA CONCERNS: Bill McClumpha, the Victorian Farmers Federation Sunraysia water council representative.

SUNRAYSIA CONCERNS: Bill McClumpha, the Victorian Farmers Federation Sunraysia water council representative.

“What you want to make sure is that you have got your other settings right, so everyone can have an equal, competitive chance, rather than say ‘you can’t get water’.”

Ms Neville said there was still a lot of work to be done on SMP2, with its impact on other users being a key issue.

“We are due to get something back on the business case, I am not sure that it will ultimately stack up, but we will see.”

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