Drought coordinator tours Riverland

Drought coordinator tours Riverland

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VITAL VISIT: Tony Pasin, Murray Bridge, Peter Teichmann, Canberra, Central Irrigation Trust's Gavin McMahon, SA Murray Irrigators' Caren Martin, Major General Stephen Day and Primary Industries Minister Tim Whetstone.

VITAL VISIT: Tony Pasin, Murray Bridge, Peter Teichmann, Canberra, Central Irrigation Trust's Gavin McMahon, SA Murray Irrigators' Caren Martin, Major General Stephen Day and Primary Industries Minister Tim Whetstone.

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During a visit to the Riverland, national drought coordinator Major General Stephen Day met with irrigator representatives and key regional figures.

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During a visit to the Riverland last week, national drought coordinator Major General Stephen Day set his sights on a long-term national drought policy that will help support all sectors of primary production.

With a report expected by the Commonwealth government at the end of this month, Primary Industries and Regional Development Minister Tim Whetstone said the Major General's visit to the region was particularly important because water allocations for irrigators would most likely be affected if the dry conditions continued.

"It was valuable for the local community to discuss how the drought is affecting dryland farmers and what it means for local irrigator water allocations as well," he said.

"Areas of the Riverland and Mallee are experiencing drought and some of our communities are doing it tough." 

Related reading: SA drought receives attention of national coordinator

Part of the Major General's role is to coordinate action to support drought-affected families and their communities.

"It is to ensure all sectors are being provided with the best help available and works across all levels of government, business, charities and farmers to coordinate efforts," Mr Whetstone said. 

Riverland-based Central Irrigation Trust chief executive officer Gavin McMahon met with the Major General and highlighted that the regions were often left out of "big conversations" that involved them.

It was clear he was trying to determine a long-term drought policy - it needs to survive changes of government and circumstances. - GAVIN McMAHON

"It was important for Major General Day to visit because we contribute strongly to SA's economy," he said. 

"It was clear he was trying to determine a long-term drought policy - it needs to survive changes of government and circumstances." 

Mr McMahon said his main message to the Major General was that the impacts from drought in dryland and irrigated areas were similar. 

"The physical impacts of drought in dryland areas are obvious but irrigators are suffering just as much," he said. 

"If reduced water allocations are put in place then there will be increased competition for water. To keep crops alive with irrigated water is expensive so there are the same financial impacts as in dryland regions, it is just not as visible. 

"Farmers are making on-farm adjustments because of dry conditions but we are looking for enablers to help everyone do that."  

Restricted access to finance for producers during "tough years" was also flagged as an issue to Major General Day. 

"It has tightened up considerably, which becomes another impact on farmers," Mr McMahon said. 

Related reading: Drought funds begin to roll out to councils

SA Murray Irrigators chair Caren Martin said the commissioner's "great respect for river issues" was evident.

Ms Martin said Major General Day acknowledged the differences between dryland farming and river issues with respect to drought.

"He was cautiously listening and it was encouraging," she said.

"He was pleased to listen about how to go forward with river management and how it links in with drought initiatives."

Ms Martin informed the Major General that the region relied on healthy rivers and well-manged water storage to survive drought-like conditions.

"Although not all parts of the river system are in drought at once, the entire system needs to be looked after to ensure those resources are always available," she said.

"We have a buffer - we can access water from various tributaries so we have other drought management options that dryland farmers do not have, but there is no insurance if all the water runs out."

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