The problem is our flawed decision-making process

By Riverine Herald

SINCE approached to contribute to the opinion piece, lots of ideas have surfaced about what I would love to get off my chest, but hopefully giving readers an insight to how decisions are made might provide a wider understanding of my passion for water.

Normally I love the months of September and October and the anticipation of preparing for rice planting, but this year our decision has been tougher than ever and to grow or not to grow has played back and forth like a rally between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Some people will probably roll their eyes and say be progressive, grow something else, but there are so many hidden benefits for growing rice that fit outside the gross revenue.

It isn’t something I can just shake off, it has been a part of my live for as long as I can remember.

Rice growing works for us, we enjoy managing the crop and pride ourselves in getting the one percenters right.

We can be pretty certain about the returns per megalitre used on farm.

Sure, irrigating cereals pays off for many, however rice has been very reliable to us and is less susceptible to water logging, frost damage and other weather events. Every megalitre used on farm provides a safe return for us.

While writing this Murray Valley general security holders are still on zero allocation.

A resource distribution from Murray Irrigations has given us a whiff of hope and between our two families (Mum and Dad and us) we are 20 megalitres short of sowing a 13ha paddock, we need a 1 per cent allocation by February to meet our target.

Budgets have been run and rerun, and options have been considered at every angle.

A family meeting was held on Saturday, so we could way up the pros and cons.

The cons – what if we don’t get 1 per cent allocation and our water budget blows out leaving us having to spend our profit on water purchases, what if the stress of waiting for allocation announcements drive us around the bend?

The pros – even though it is the tiniest crop probably in the history of rice growing, we know we will contribute to our local economy, trading water goes against our principals (we can’t handle the thought of a poor dairy cocky getting screwed at our benefit), a crop will provide a wonderful little niche habitat for many of our native wildlife, we get to do what we love to do, there will be residual moisture in the soil for the next year.

Many will think we are crazy and for others the business decision will be to pre water cereals or sell it and have the summer off, but for our business rice works and is rewarding.

So, the risks are worth it and then there are the mental health benefits of having a crack and supporting your community.

Sowing will start this week, and we will have to keep fingers and toes crossed that a few things go our way to get it over the line.

In the end all the risk is carried by the farmer, who pays retail and receives wholesale.

Long term as a nation we need to really consider how we are going to manage our limited resource while at the same time protect those who grow the clean green food and fibre we have all become accustomed to.

Last week crossing the Murray at Tocumwal and travelling alongside the river out of town the water was so high that it was flowing up one of the side roads leading to a boat ramp.

A very frustrating sight to see when on zero per cent.

Currently the Lower Lakes are 97 per cent full and were at minor flood levels for a considerable amount of time late winter and early spring.

As a nation we cannot afford to manage the Lower Lakes as an entirely fresh water system, where a third of the Hume evaporates every year.

Don’t forget they were once estuarine and relied on sea water flowing into them.

Imagine what the nearly two Sydney Harbours could produce in our region, instead of been evaporated.

Northern Victoria, along with the Goulburn and Murray valleys, should be supported to be versatile and diverse productive regions, they are close to the storages and the transmission losses are relatively minor.

Instead over the next two weeks consultation will begin confirming the commonwealth’s intention to remove a further 450 gigalitres from our productive pool.

As a nation would it not be far better to look at options to prevent the massive evaporation from the end of the system or to return water which once flowed into the Coorong, but now runs out to sea through the drains of south eastern South Australia?

If as a nation we want to achieve ecological outcomes, while at the same time support our farmers, (who have the world’s toughest safety standards) we have to change our thinking about how to achieve this.

Crops like rice and the watering of pastures provide a unique opportunity to provide novel ecosystems, which spring to life when the water flows into the paddock.

Rice has a massive feeds per megalitre ratio and the biodiversity it supports is inspirational.

Instead of farming and the environment being in competition imagine the possibilities for employment, food security; regional growth and biodiversity outcomes if opportunities could be explored to complement each other.

In the end frogs, birds, fish and trees don’t care who owns the water as long as they have somewhere to breed.