Pervasive drought conditions have farmers and agronomists predicting a decline in Griffiths rice industry in coming years despite a brief blanket of rain this week.
A reduction in Coleambally’s corn industry is also expected to become and emerging trend as the less water-costly crops of cotton, perennial trees, and vegetables, begin dominating the country side of the two regions.
This week 20.4 millimeters of rain fell at Griffith Airport from 9am on Monday according to the Bureau of Meteorology, and Terra AG agronomist Gus Denotta said it was cotton farmers who benefited the most from the showers.
“The showers were perfect timing, any time you water a cotton crop you water log the crop...the first couple of true leaves are coming through they don’t use much moisture at the moment… when you get a shower like this it freshens up the crop and gets it going for a good couple of weeks, also it will bring up all the weeds and (the farmers) won’t have to use spray,” Mr Denotta said.
Rain aside, 2018’s overall drought conditions have cast their shadows over the future of Griffiths rice industry with Mr Denotta claiming “rice is coming out of the picture at the moment because it uses a lot of water, at least 30 percent more than cotton.”
Instead of rice Mr Denotta insists perennial trees such as nuts, fruit and cotton will increasingly become the dominant industries in Griffith.
Mr Denatto believes that the majority of farmers turning away from Griffith’s historic rice industry will be converting their farms to cotton due to the relatively low costs of labor and fertilizer required when making a field suitable for the bush, especially when compared to costs in preparing soil for perennial trees.
“To develop a hectare of cotton to grow under irrigation the price, in eruption of price base into dollars, is roughly $1,600,” Mr Denatto said.
“That is a lot of money that has to be depreciated so if you don’t grow cotton for five to six years after (tilling) it will not be worth your time”
However, Mr Denotta also believes that the suitability of the Griffith region for perennial trees will see some farmers direct their attention to fruit and nuts.
“There is a trend that perennial crops will (increasingly) be planted because they last longer in the year and they require less water in the long term and capitalize it better than cotton, some need more water but in the whole long term equation they become more attractive,” Mr Denotta said.
“There will be a trend of growers moving out of cotton towards perennial trees because we do always have an amount of water allocation in Griffith.”
“Little by little perennial trees are gaining territory, and by territory I mean they are using more of the high level water, increasingly the percent of high level water being used is going more to perennial trees than crops.”
Farmers in Coleambally are also expecting to see a decline in the historic corn industry in coming years as the price per megalitre is expected to remain lofty.
Neil Wiseman from Wiseman Organic Produce claims in that 2018 the price of water has made maintaining a summer crop of corn and soybeans untenable.
“Because the water is so dear we are not doing any summer crops, we normally do soybeans and corn, but it’s not viable with water at (over) $400 a meg,” Mr Wiseman said.
“We have planted seven or eight paddocks with cover crops and that will lay through the summer and hopefully will build up moisture.”
Brendan Murray owner of Nature’s Haven farm says the trend has already emerged of Coly growers turning from corn to vegetables which generally have much lower water costs.
“The biggest challenge is when there is drought every one grows vegetables because they think they will get a bigger return per megalitre of water but it floods the market and quite often they can’t sell,” Mr Murray said.
“It’s happened with our zucchinis the current price is the lowest I’ve seen in 15 years.
“There are probably seven other zucchini growers in the South East, usually there's only five, I wouldn't class (the new two) as big growers but they’re big enough to drive the prices down,” Mr Murray said.
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