Australian Farmers forced exodus

In Australasia, Drought & Fires, News Headlines

Farmers and small business owners are predicting the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s recommendation for massive water cuts will force a mass exodus from their communities.

The authority predicts the reductions in water allocations may result in losses of up to $1.1 billion a year to irrigated agriculture production, 800 job losses and significant social impacts across the basin.

But business leaders in the New South Wales Riverina town of Griffith say cuts of 43 per cent for their area mean, at worst, a loss of 5,000 jobs across the region.

They say there will need to be a big investment in mental health facilities for not only irrigators, but the wider community.

The area is heavily reliant on orchards, viticulture, food and fibre crops for its $2 billion economy. One winery alone brings in $700 million to the region.

Today’s news spelling out less water hurts everyone.

Griffith Business Council chair Pat Pittavino says the residential and property market has already eased, and this announcement will exacerbate that.

“At a worst-case scenario, up to 5,000 jobs just from our region – the economic impacts of that are humungous,” he said.

“Some [people] are dead-set frightened. They’re mortgaged to the hilt with banks and things like that.

“Real estate will be worth nothing. I just shudder to think where we’re going to go.

“I hope we have a lot of mental health hospitals and things set up. We’re going to need a lot of help down here.”

Frank Battistel is the chairman of Riverina Citrus, an organisation that represents more than 500 farmers that grow a third of all Australian oranges.

“There was a 32 per cent decrease in allocation, which would give about 3,500 gigalitres to the environment and I think there was a scenario put up as high as 7,600 gigalitres to the environment, which would basically mean the complete wipeout of an irrigation era,” he said.

“There’s a few scenarios there – from 32 to 43 per cent – and of course the bigger number gives the environment up to 4,000 gigalitres, all big numbers, all have quite drastic impacts in communities.”

The water cuts are a double blow for Teresa Reginato and her family, who own an orange farm and a newsagency in Griffith.

“If we don’t have much water we won’t be able to water our orchard farm, so therefore the produce from the farm will be significantly cut down,” she said.

“And with the newsagency, we heavily rely on farmers here in the area to get the business going.

“We went into the newsagency business hoping, because farming is going the way it’s going, this would help [with] our retirement, but we don’t see a future here at the moment.”

Ms Reginato says her family is exploring their options, but they do not want to move to the city.

“We love the country lifestyle. We like what it gives us here, so we’d like to stay here.”

Next week the Murray Darling Basin Authority will travel to irrigation communities to talk about the draft water plan.

Griffith locals say they will turn out in force on Thursday to protest against what they say is an unjust cut.

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