Big article in the Weekend Financial Review about water, Murray River, etc. mainly looking at the town of HAY, in NSW.

Hay used to be a pretty dry place – but a few years ago somebody put in big open trench irrigation ditches (a mere 20 km of it) to bring in irrigation water. Now Hay has loads of water, and the Hay plain is used for growing RICE (!!!???!!!), corn, grass for grazing, etc etc.

So, the big moan in the weekend paper is about what the drought, and the cut in irrigation quotas will mean for rural communities and Hay as an example.

CRANKY ATTACK #1. Hang on a mo. The irrigation is artificial, and extremely inefficient. And these people have the hide to whine about cuts in the quota. Give me a break. It’s people like this who have f*&^ed the system up for everybody else.

Particular focus in the article on one farmer, supposedly responsible, who said (I’m paraphrasing but the gist of it is the same):

I own water, and I’ll use it wherever the economic return is greatest. At the moment, that’s rice, so I’ll grow rice.

CRANKY ATTACK #2. For starters, this guy DOES NOT OWN WATER. He has an allocation, granted by a stupid and short-sighted state government. That allocation might have a value, but he does not OWN water in a river system. The water in the river system belongs to everybody. He has rights to it, whether allocated on a rational basis or not. And those rights affect many more people than just him. Responsible farmer? I think not.

CRANKY ATTACK #3. Geez. Growing rice. Which sells in the supermarket for about $1 a bag, and barely competes on price with the Asian imports. Something is seriously wrong if the higher cost of local labour means that Australian rice can compete with imports. And that something that is wrong is the cost of water. If jerks like this paid a more reasonable cost for a scare commodity, they would use their (or a smaller) water allocation for something more effective.

After reading this, I’m really grumpy. State governments need to admit the error of their ways, take back or buy back water licenses granted, and cut down on stupid irrigation. At the same time the cost of irrigation water needs to be PERMANENTLY increased – not just in times of drought, but forever. We need permanent economic signals, not short term chopping and changing.



Hmm, I’ve got an idea!

Let’s raise beef cattle on the Great Barrier Reef. We’ll have to get some dirt brought in to make some land, but if it erodes away and doesn’t work after a few years, I’ll blame the Government. They’ll help me.

Comment by Merovingian | November 6th, 2006 8:22 pm | Permalink

Just a few comments on your discussion…….

You seem to have it out for the farmers.

In response to the cranky attacks:
You are correct, the farmer may not own the water. But in some areas irrigators must pay access fees every year even though no water is actually supplied. The farmer has invested hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars to build infrastructure and develop the land and in doing so may have borrowed most of that money. It is only natural that he or she will choose to grow the most profitable crop possible in that geographical area under the current climatic and economic conditions. It seems that rice and cotton are the easy scapegoat for the media, probably because water is seen on the surface of the ground during the irrigation. At the moment, these commodities compare favourably with other broadacre agricultural industries as far as dollars per ML returned to the farmer.

To encourage farmers to grow “more productive” crops with “more efficient” technologies we need to pay them better prices……maybe like the organic food you find in the supermarket.

We as consumers are responsible for the water use of our farmers. If we did not wear cotton shirts and jeans there would be no irrigation of cotton. If we did not drink milk we would have no need to irrigate pasture to feed cattle. To put it simply if you want farmers to stop growing crops, using water, pesticides and fertilizers you will have to starve.

Then the Australian public has an idea…. We can just import the produce from somewhere else. But is this food grown in a magical land where crops do not need water and artificial fertilisers…. No. In addition, many of those regions who are exportinho we could possibly these commodities from may in fact face more dire environmental problems then our own.

Agricultural crops use water, no matter where on earth they are grown. Lets just take a look at a some of the items that you may buy at the supermarket

1Kg of wheat – 1000L
¼ pound hamburger meat – 11,000L
1L of milk – 2000L
1Kg Rice – 5000L
1Kg sugar – 3000L
1Kg coffee – 20,000L
1 cotton T-shirt 7000L

Next time you sip your coffee just take a moment to think. It took 1120 cups of water to grow the coffee beans and 50 cups to grow the teaspoon of sugar. You might think twice about the value of water to agriculture, but then again probably not.

The parched planet., By: Pearce, Fred, New Scientist, 2/25/2006, Vol. 189, Issue 2540

Comment by Mal | November 8th, 2006 12:20 am | Permalink

Yes, I do have it in for farmers. Stupid farmers who use open-drain irrigation. Stupid state Govts who allow this to be built (esp. within the last 20 years – its criminal).

If you look at the cost of food as a proportion of average weekly incomes, over the last 50 years the cost of food has fallen dramatically.

The farmers have been screwed over, big time, by market forces. Unfortunately, that’s life in the capitalist system.

What really annoys me is the inappropriate use of a scarce resource. Going into hot dry country and irrigating to grow cattle, or rice, or corn, is just silly. We’ve screwed up the country to make cheap food, and now we are all suffering.

In the long term it’s unsustainable and the inevitable result is that the price of food will have to rise. That, of itself, may not be a bad thing – it might mean that the city folk need to replace their plasma TV’s a bit less frequently…

In the modern times we have, life is as easy for the masses as it has ever been, but we all still whine about how hard things are. Our parents had it tougher, and their parents had it much, much tougher. We need to whine less, and pay more for the basics of living.

Comment by Wally | November 8th, 2006 9:37 am | Permalink

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