Foreign plantations imperil our food production

The Federal Government has ignored the reality of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan water policies.

They can no longer ignore the consequences of failing to acknowledge that reality, for to do so is to expose our nation to shortages of our core food staples, such as milk, flour and rice.

Foreign corporations are gobbling up our water entitlements at a frightening rate, with Canadian investors increasing their water entitlement ownership by 400 per cent since 2018, with the added bonus of not being required to pay capital gains tax when those water rights are sold.

The majority of foreign-owned water entitlements are being used to develop massive almond, cotton and olive plantations in sandy semi-arid regions where conveyance losses are greater, meaning less efficient use of our most precious and increasingly shrinking resource.

In Victoria alone, almond planting acreage increased by 591 per cent from 2003 to 2019 (4350 ha to 25,715 ha according to a Sunrise report).

The next drought period, which will come as surely as night follows day, will bring on a ‘battle royale’ for water, which will see dairy, rice, cropping and citrus farmers in the southern connected basin unable to financially compete for water at exorbitant prices.

Once again our dairy industry will struggle to survive, having already seen a 30 per cent reduction in basin milk production since 2012.

The Almond Board has forecast that plantings will reach 50,000 ha across Victoria, NSW and South Australia and at maturity, these trees will require about 700 Gl or more than the entire gravity-fed Goulburn Murray Irrigation District used (530 Gl) in 2019-20.

It is unequivocally obvious that when we experience the next drought, the permanent horticultural plantings will, as Aither water consultants state, “push the limits of annual water availability”, meaning these developments will take all available surface and groundwater in the connected Murray region.

The reality is, that there will be no water left for core food production — that is, milk and other dairy products, rice, milling flour for bread, biscuits, cereals.

With this comes the collateral damage to basin communities, families and reliant businesses and services.

Water shortages for the cropping industry has a domino effect of stock fodder scarcity, which has a devastating impact on our livestock sector during drought periods.

Both federal and state governments have also allowed large corporate entities to plunder water in our northern basin with illegal, unlicensed, unmetered water take through floodplain harvesting, which directly impacts on allocations available in the southern basin, drastically reducing agricultural production.

It seems that the politicians and bureaucrats who control our water industry are hell bent on pandering to large overseas corporations who are pillaging our water supply to the detriment of our family farms, which are the backbone of our nation’s core food production.

Under basin plan policies there has been an obstinate refusal to address the reality of climate change, the inefficient water use in ‘greening semi-arid regions’ and consequent massive conveyance losses, the inability to deliver greater and greater volumes through our flat ancient river systems and the absolute failure to show any foresight at all on the implications that massive plantation development is incurring on the ability to provide food for our nation.

Jan Beer


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