Australian growers: Water shortage is a unifying issue

Supporting growers to manage orchards in the face of looming water shortages was top of the agenda when apple and pear industry leaders met in Melbourne this week. State Associations from across the country converged on Melbourne during Hort Connections to share regional outlooks and issues, and discuss strategies for managing common national issues.

Dealing with drought and water shortage dominated discussion in the ‘on the couch’ public session during APAL’s Industry Forum on Monday, with Stanthorpe and Orange facing severe water shortages this year and all regions, but Western Australia, looking at some pressure on water availability.

New South Wales Farmers Association Horticulture Policy Director Robert Hardie said 98 per cent of the state was now drought declared and there was ‘too much drought and not enough water’.

“How can we sustain permanent plantings if we have another dry summer,” he said. “It is very challenging. If you are a livestock producer you can destock, but if you are a fruit producer you can wait four to five years for an income. We need to focus on supporting those growing permanent plantings.”

Queensland-based horticultural advisor Stephen Tancred, Orchard Services, said Granite Belt growers were out of water and facing costs of $7-8,000/ML to cart in water to keep trees alive: “We are in trouble too. We’ve only had to do it once before and that was 12 years ago, just to finish the crop. We are waiting for rain, but it is difficult when pruning to know what to prioritise.”

Hort Connections fell between the southern and northern loops of the latest Future Orchards® walks round which looked at options for building climate change resilience, including minimising water use by the installation of netting, mulching, drip irrigation, reducing leaf area, thinning and focusing on productive blocks for return while maintaining young blocks for the following year.

Fruit Growers Victoria (FGV) chair Mitchell McNab said the Goulburn Valley in Central Victoria had experienced one of the hottest summers on record, impacting on fruit quality. With dam levels low, he said the coming season was shaping up as a challenging one for growers trying to maintain permanent plantings.

Irrigators on the Goulburn and Murray rivers in Northern Victoria who have received 100 per cent allocation on their entitlements in recent years, received opening allocations for the 2019/20 season this week of a low two per cent of high reliability water share (HRWS) entitlement. Temporary water in the rivers is trading at $500/megalitre.

“Unless we have substantial rain over the winter, I don’t think we will get to 50 per cent,” Mitchell said. “If that’s the case there will be some hard decisions to be made about whether growers can afford some blocks or will have to walk away from some.”


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