OFFICIAL statistics confirm last year’s irrigated crops were a resounding success but farmers say they’re unlikely to repeat the performance.
The value of irrigated agricultural production from 2011-12 was the highest in more than 10 years at $13.5 billion, according to the latest information from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
NSW reported the largest increase in volume of irrigation, with cotton and rice growers doing well thanks to increased water allocations.
Murrumbidgee Valley Food and Fibre Association president Debbie Buller said farmers should be proud of the news but feared the good news would be short lived.
“The value of irrigated crops hit a high because the drought broke and we had the highest water allocation in over a decade,” Ms Buller said.
“Irrigators finally got some water they could work with and the results spoke for themselves.
“It’s good to see us back on top because irrigators in our area are now able to maximise contribution to the country, but the current water allocations won’t let that trend continue.”
Ms Buller said irrigation farmers were taking huge risks planting crops because it was harder than ever to predict what the water allocation levels would be this season.
“The last two seasons we knew there was water everywhere and that by December we’d have a very good allocation to rely on but that’s not the case this year,” Ms Buller said.
“SunRice have already asked farmers to change what type of rice they’re growing because they know there’ll be a smaller crop.”
Last week’s record-breaking heat forced some farmers to water wheat crops they had assumed would be fine until harvest.
Willbriggie rice farmer Glen Andreazza said he had various sources of water, including carry-over from last year, but yesterday’s announcement water allocations would not increase above 43 per cent meant he was unlikely to plant the full program this season.
“I’m already two-thirds of the way though planting the rice but the recent hot weather meant I had to water wheat which I thought would have been fine until harvest,” he said.
“Because they’re not increasing the water allocation I will most likely keep this season’s crop to two-thirds of capacity.
“Most farmers I know have been conservative with the summer crop, only making decisions on what is currently available rather than taking a punt on what might come later.”
Mr Andrezza said with prices on the temporary water market rising from $35 per megalitre last year to near $70 at the start of this season, farmers were wary of planting too much and having to water later on.