Water

Southern Riverina dairy farmer Brett Napier is unsure where his future lies

By Sophie Baldwin

Brett Napier is fighting for survival in an industry he loves.

And he is frustrated and angry.

The southern Riverina irrigator is facing another year of dairying on a zero water allocation.

He knows he can’t sustain another season of high temporary water, hay and grain prices  but he doesn’t want to exit the industry either.

Dairying is all he knows and all he wants to do.

He is considering doing the one thing he thought he never would — sell a portion of his permanent water entitlement to keep going.

“It’s such a hard and frustrating decision to make, selling a major asset, but it is one I will have to make very soon,” Mr Napier said.

Mr Napier feels he is being forced into selling an asset through poor water policy and implications from the Murray-Darling Basin Plan — all factors that are out of his own personal control.

The Napier family has been farming at Blighty since 1967.

“It’s a great area to farm, we just need irrigation water to thrive,” Mr Napeir said.

Not only has the Napier family had to deal with zero water allocation for the second year in a row, it has also had to deal with the impact of a frustrating groundwater debacle through a government compulsory acquisition, which saw the farm's bore allocation reduced from 600Ml to 70Ml in 2006.

“Under the acquisition, we lost 530Ml from our bore with no compensation. Some users lost 50 per cent and were compensated but we lost nearly all of ours.

``We understood there needed to be some cuts made for sustainability but the whole process was handled unfairly and it certainly created division in the community.

“For us 70Ml doesn’t go very far and that decision has really hurt us and crippled our business.”

Mr Napier said there was a simple solution to the groundwater situation — if the review that is under way recognized CSIRO science (which the MDBA uses) and reinstated some of the groundwater licences.

“There would be additional water with no adverse environmental impacts which would benefit the region and the economy as a whole, reducing some demand for surface water.”

Mr Napier said the past 12 months had been extremely stressful.

“I enjoy what I do and I love working with cows. The industry can be hard and we expect things to be tough but this is a whole new level, we shouldn’t be forced into selling our assets to survive.

“I feel like I need to move to South Australia just so I can get a water allocation and security of water.”

Mr Napier is also concerned about the mass exodus of dairy farmers.

“Generations are being lost. It’s a real skill running a dairy farm and we are losing people with these skills every day — family farms are the backbone of the industry.”

In an average year the Napier family produces 2.6 million litres of milk and grows 1000 tonnes of fodder including barley which can be taken through to grain.

“This is our last roll of the dice. If we are still in this position this time next year and we are still going backwards, we will have to make the decision to stop and go into something else.”