Stock, northern basin, not affected by irrigation shut-off

20th April 2007Farmers in the Murray Darling Basin will still be able to water livestock under a contingency plan unveiled by the Federal Government yesterday.

Prime Minister John Howard triggered confusion among the farm sector when he stipulated water would only be available for “critical urban and domestic” purposes, and not livestock.

That prompted calls from the National Farmers’ Federation for an urgent meeting with the Prime Minister to give consideration for essential water use in order to keep permanent tree plantings and livestock alive.

But Assistant Minister for Water, John Cobb, was straight on a plane to Canberra today to clear up that, in fact, stock and domestic arrangements remained in tact.

Mr Cobb said the only difficulty would be for those farmers who actually draw their stock water supplies from an irrigation channel, which will now have no water in it.

Mr Cobb was also quick to clarify that despite broad statements suggesting irrigation across the whole basin would come to a holt, it was only a contingency plan for the southern Murray Darling, south of Menindee Lakes.

Nonetheless, the plan will still have immense ramifications for the intense irrigation sector on high security licences, who risk losing permanent tree plantings when the government turns the tap off in July.

NFF president, David Crombie, said if perennial crops (oranges, apples, etc.) are to be denied basic water requirements, the trees will eventually die and economically it could take 10 years to recover.

“If the trees and vines die, they will have to be re-planted – taking five-to-seven years before full production returns,” Mr Crombie warned before today’s meeting.

“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 40pc 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.”

SOURCE: National rural news updated daily on FarmOnline.