Dairy farmers have been blindsided by the NSW Government’s drastic change to Coastal Harvestable Rights, casting doubt on the industry’s survival.
Last year the former state government increased Coastal Harvestable Rights so farmers could store 30 per cent of the rain that fell on their properties, providing hope for future productivity gains.
But on Wednesday NSW Water Minister Rose Jackson pulled the rug out from under farmers by quietly reverting the rules to 10 per cent, which NSW Farmers Dairy Committee chair Phil Ryan called “a kick in the guts”.
“This has absolutely nothing to do with the drying conditions we’re seeing and everything to do with appeasing inner-city environmentalists who have no idea where their food comes from,” Mr Ryan said.
“The dairy industry in NSW is already facing price pressure, a dry season ahead and cheap imports from New Zealand, and now the Water Minister is making it harder to be a dairy farmer.
“Short-sighted decisions like this, made without asking farmers what the practical impacts might be, puts enormous pressure on coastal agriculture and erodes trust in government.”
The ability to construct a dam on a property to capture harvestable rights was introduced under the NSW Farm Dams Policy in 1999, which changed the rules from an unlimited number of farm dams on a property to a 10 per cent take statewide.
While that number sounded good on paper, landholders in coastal catchments argued for larger harvestable rights due to higher rainfall patterns and vastly different topography to farms west of the Dividing Range, where the 10 per cent rights measurement originated.
Mr Ryan said while NSW Farmers policy was to secure a 40 per cent take of rainfall under Coastal Harvestable Rights, the previous government’s position was progress to unwind the ‘one size fits all’ rules that governed the allocation and use of water resources.
“We were looking forward to greater opportunities for agriculture in a sustainable and beneficial way,” Mr Ryan said.
“It was an important step in righting the old wrongs on water, but with the return of water buybacks in the Murray Darling Basin and now this change to Coastal Harvestable Rights, it seems we’ve got a government intent on ignoring the people who produce food for supermarket shelves.
This is arguably the worst possible time for this decision for farmers, it’s a real kick in the guts.”