Threat of water buybacks strikes fear in farmers

Rice Growers Association president Peter Herrmann, with his sons Oswald, Barney, Kipling and Fred, at their farm in Murrami, NSW. Picture: Noah Yim

Fourth-generation rice farmer Peter Herrmann doesn’t mince his words.

He and his neighbours have become world leaders in water saving, using 50 per cent less water per tonne of rice produced than their nearest international competitors.

Yet despite doing everything asked of them, their much-maligned industry is about to get another kick in the guts, Mr Herrmann believes, as the federal government looks set to reintroduce loathed water buybacks to the Murray Darling Basin.

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“These communities I’m talking about will go,” Mr Herrmann said. “It is a slow moving travesty if you believe, as I do, these agricultural pursuits reflect the best of human endeavours.”

Mr Herrmann is president of the Rice Growers Association and is himself a rice and walnut farmer based in Murrami, regional NSW, about four hours west of Canberra. But he represents a diminished industry.

Australian rice production has not fully recovered from successive droughts since the turn of the millennium and is only now starting to pick back up after the record rains in the past few years and great advances in agriculture that allow for efficient use of water.

READ MORE:Cautious buyback scheme approval

Agriculture groups in the Murray Darling Basin – the country’s food bowl – are watching with fear as a key deadline draws closer under the Murray Darling Basin Plan. Key stakeholders fear the federal government will step in and ramp up water buybacks after state government-led infrastructure projects that promised to save water – thereby offsetting the need for water buybacks – have mostly been put on ice.

That sense of urgency escalated on Wednesday when the Victorian government announced it would pause four of the infrastructure projects.

While Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has said on multiple occasions that she remains open to all options, farming groups see a veiled intent to start water buybacks after the June 2024 deadline, given many infrastructure projects have fallen over and independent groups have repeatedly projected shortfalls.

The biggest infrastructure project to stumble was the NSW Menindee Lakes project, which could have saved 70-100 gigalitres per year to contribute to the 605 gigalitres per year target.

NSW authorities in 2021 first flagged a “rescope” of the project and have since said the government could not deliver the project by the 2024 deadline.

Mr Herrmann looks frustrated and determined as he talks about the issue. “The policy settings reflect a thinly veiled disrespect for what it takes to be a productive agricultural nation,” he said.

Mr Herrmann with his sons Kipling, left, and Barney at their farm. Picture: Noah Yim

Farming groups say prior experience shows that water buybacks drain communities.

Victorian Farmers’ Federation water chairman Andrew Leahy, a dairy farmer in northern Victoria, has felt the impacts first-hand.

“There used to be 28 farms in my area and now there’s five,” he said. “And so that means our football club runs short. Our local businesses run short. There’s not enough money for them. The high school where I went to school had a thousand kids. Now it’s only got 200 kids there. So, for me, I’ve sent my kids three hours away to a boarding school because the services aren’t there for them to learn.”

Noah Yim


Noah Yim is a reporter at the Sydney bureau of The Australian…. Read more

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Comment by Nelle- Taking your water is the govt’s intent they want all farmers gone- we saw the writing on the wall years ago when Johnny Howard started to take water off the farmer and sell it to the highest bidder -(farmers need water to grow food to feed the nation and put export money in the coffers) and left while we could go with something in the bank to fight another day-communists and criminals in govt gang up on you- we had allowed them to get a good hold before we woke to the danger

Published by Nelle

I am interested in writing short stories for my pleasure and my family's but although I have published four family books I will not go down that path again but still want what I write out there so I will see how this goes

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