Late water allocations stripping rice incomes

RICE farmers were forced to curtail their hopes of a bumper season as the window for planting shut as general security allocation languished at 43 per cent.

Griffith Chamber of Commerce's Paul Pierotti and president of the Murrumbidgee Valley Food and Fibre Association Debbie Buller have both railed against sustained mismanagement of water.

After reflecting on a meeting with the commissioner of the NSW Office of Water David Harriss, both presidents were worried the local economy would be severely damaged if broad-acre irrigators were continually denied adequate water allocations.

"I have very good anecdotal evidence farmers have been prevented from sowing somewhere between 20 and 30 per cent of their crops this season," Ms Buller said.

"The pattern from the last three seasons is, even in good years, there is no possible way for general security irrigators in the Murrumbidgee Valley to get a clear and transparent indication of their water allocation entitlement in their planting period.

"We can't let this happen again because we've got iconic companies like SunRice rethinking their operations and the cream of the crop is missing from our local economy."

Both industry representatives have levelled the blame at an unnecessary imbalance between the major two local dams and the government's unwillingness to assume any risk because of reticence of over-allocating.

During the pre-season months, the Burrinjuck Dam was primarily used to aid environmental flows, but according to Ms Buller this has created a serious problem as the relatively full Blowering Dam cannot deliver enough water fast enough to farmers.

Mr Pierotti said water has been exceptionally badly handled and business, as well as farmers, was tired of bureaucrats shifting blame between the different water agencies.

"No one thing can boost our local economy like water can," Mr Pierotti said.

"The last three years have been some of the wettest in history, but we haven't had high enough water allocations early enough because the government is too risk averse.

"There is very close to $5 billion worth of production every year linked to irrigation and these constant poor decisions by the state government has reduced that number by close to half."

Mr Pierotti called on the federal government to take decisive action to effectively co-ordinate water management in order to give farmers and the local economy a fighting chance.

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