Southern Basin rice and dairy farmers deprived of 375 gigalitres of water


The key finding from a Murray Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) report released 17/12/20 confirms that southern NSW and northern Victorian farmers dependent on irrigation allocations have been deprived of an average 375,000 megalitres of water each year over the last seven years (2012–19).

SunRice Chair Laurie Arthur said, “For the Australian rice industry, an additional 375,000 megalitres would have meant an additional 320,000 tonnes [1] of rice each year – or 320 million one kilogram bags of rice.”

“This equals an additional $130 million[2] returned to the Australian economy every year, through payments to growers, contractors and domestic jobs. This rice would have been processed in our Riverina facilities, and sold to our markets around the world, with significant flow-on benefits for the Riverina region” Mr Arthur said.

The ‘underuse’, as it is described by the MDBA, is as a consequence of several factors including the unintended impacts from past policy changes, and the resulting impacts on water user behavior and the delivery of environmental allocations.

RGA President Rob Massina said, “The current State based water allocation frameworks have been unable to recognize this underuse and respond appropriately.”

“In particular, this underuse is a consequence of the now super-conservative nature of the State based water allocation policies, which has resulted in annual water allocations for Riverina farmers being smaller than was the case in previous comparative years.”

“While irrigators continue to use the water made available to them, the conservative nature of the allocation frameworks has meant that irrigators have simply not been allocated their fair share of the available resource.”

This MDBA report was released in response to a 2019 report commissioned by the rice industry and written by external consultants RMCG which highlighted the significant issue of much less water being made available to farmers than was planned when the Basin Plan was established in 2012

Mr Arthur stated that “While we are pleased that the MDBA has finally completed this analysis, we are also extremely disappointed that the MDBA has not recommended State Governments take immediate action to review and adjust their allocation policies and reverse this erosion of entitlement reliability.”

“Rather, the MDBA has recommended further and ongoing ‘monitoring’ of the situation. Our view is that after seven years of monitoring there is sufficient evidence of systemic underuse to warrant immediate action.

“Policy changes can and should be implemented that enable annual irrigators to utilise water up to the valley based diversion limits.”

Mr Massina said “Make no mistake – this erosion of allocations is a direct consequence of the collective impacts of two decades of water reform. Annual irrigators in the Southern Basin, including rice growers, have borne the brunt of water reform and its disproportionate and unfair impacts.”

“The Australian rice industry is world-class, and when water is allocated it is an economic powerhouse of the Riverina region. Provided water is available, we are one of the world’s most successful rice industries, delivering significant yields, quality value-added products, regional employment and leading the world in water use efficiency.”

“It is imperative that both Federal and State Governments act on the findings of this report.”

[1] Based on the NSW Department of Primary Industries’ five-year average for all varietals of 10.25 tonnes per hectare, and industry-accepted average water usage of 12 megalitres per hectare.

[2] Based on the final pool payment of $411 per tonne for Medium Grain Reiziq from the Australian Rice Pool in 2018.