Excerpt from the Chair’s Report
The 2018-2019 season has delivered good returns for many farmers in the north west of Victoria. Despite drier than usual seasonal conditions, table grapes, citrus, almonds and stock returns have been very healthy. Winegrape growers have enjoyed improved returns, however, dairy farmers in our eastern area and broad acre farmers in the far north west face very difficult times.
The major concerns for the 2019–2020 season are the lack of rain, particularly in the far north west (reportedly the worst since the 1940s drought) and the expected reduced irrigation water allocations along the Murray River. There is reduced water in storages, no flow down the Darling River (or water in the Menindee Lakes) and prices for temporary water are already exorbitantly high and expected to increase further.
Increased irrigation plantations over recent years, particularly of almonds and to some extent table grapes, are dramatically challenging water arrangements and in turn putting pressure on small producers. Expected water allocations of as low as 60% for the coming irrigation season will leave many small producers facing the options of paying exorbitant and unaffordable temporary water prices, dramatically reducing crop size, or leaving some plantations to die. Either way, we expect to have increased numbers of farmers seeking Rural Financial Counselling Service assistance. The SunRISE Mapping program have included information in their annual report on irrigation plantations in north west Victoria from 1997 to 2018 and continue to highlight how dramatically plantings have increased. Mature almond trees use more water than traditional plantings and the increased acreage presents a huge risk both in terms of water availability and the capacity to get additional water downstream, given the constraints of the Barmah Choke. In recent times there have been calls for a moratorium on new plantations as awareness of these issues has increased.