Murray Darling Plan hurts dairy

By Geoff Adams

A new report, expected to be released soon, will show water recovered for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan has had a major impact on northern Victoria’s dairy industry.

The report, compiled by the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, has found about half of the changes in milk production have been attributed to the basin plan water recovery.

The report, due for public release in a few weeks, attempts to separate the impacts of the loss of water due to the basin plan from other industry factors.

MDBA chief economist Phil Townsend, in Shepparton last week to meet with stakeholders, said the 50-page report had found the plan had been responsible for about half of the change to milk production, while about one quarter of the impact was associated with water sold out of the district before and since the basin plan, and the other quarter was connected to farm consolidation, droughts, changes in farming practices, effects of variability in milk prices and other things.

The MDBA report looked at the six irrigation communities of the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District.

The authority has been showing the information to Dairy Australia and some dairy farmers during the past six months.

The MDBA is tasked with trying to find up to 3200Gl of environmental water under the plan, but is faced with strong opposition from agriculture and rural communities following a string of reports that have already shown the plan is creating unemployment and economic impacts on basin communities.

In particular, the rural groups are warning of the danger of trying to find the 450Gl of extra water that is supposed to be achieved without creating negative impacts.

Federal Member for Murray Damian Drum said in Shepparton last week: ‘‘The information we now have is stark. We go after this last 450Gl in the full knowledge of the damage we would be further inflicting on our irrigation communities.’’

Asked about the inevitable debate provoked by this report, MDBA chief executive Phillip Glyde said almost anything the authority produced would attract contested views.

Mr Drum said the plan was written in 2012 when no-one was sure of the impacts in six or seven years’ time.

‘‘Here we are at the six-year mark and the damage associated with these various communities is stark,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s not debatable, it is fact.

‘‘So we have to ask ourselves a very simple question: do we want to continue with this damage in pursuit of more environmental water or do we take a breath and realise there is a rider sitting within the plan saying we will recover the last 450Gl provided there is no social or economic damage?’’

Fonterra sustainability manager Jack Holden said the impact of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan on dairy farmers had been under-estimated.

‘‘We shared this with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority today (Wednesday), that it is important they pay attention to this,’’ Mr Holden said.

‘‘Water is the main issue for us,’’ he said about its role in northern Victoria.