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Australia Farmers change tack towards tourism as water levels in dams near Millennium drought levels

22:53  25 february  2021
22:53  25 february  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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a sign in front of a lake: Lake Moogerah was at 13.3 per cent capacity on February 24. (Supplied: Seqwater) © Provided by ABC NEWS Lake Moogerah was at 13.3 per cent capacity on February 24. (Supplied: Seqwater)

Drought has gripped agricultural land west of Brisbane for years, but to the untrained eye, it can be hard to see.

Scenic Rim Lucerne co-owner Russell Jenner said there was "not good moisture under the ground".

"It's just green on top from people irrigating and the bit of rain we've had," he said.

Moogerah Dam, near Boonah, is currently at 13.2 per cent, down from nearly 15 per cent in January.

The dam has not had so little water in it since just before the Millennium drought broke in 2008.

Once the water level reaches 7.5 per cent, no farmers will be allowed to draw water for irrigation.

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'A green drought'

Bunjurgen Vineyard owner David McMaugh said bore water would run out soon and could not be relied on.

His was already gone, and grapevines are thirsty plants.

"You must never get to a stage where the bore becomes dry, otherwise no water will flow into it," he said.

"So you have to scale back the amount of water that you draw out and we've got to the stage that that's been reached so we're dependent on what falls out of the sky.

"If you were to scan around this country and people might say, 'Oh well, it looks pretty green, everything's OK,' — it's not really.

"It's a green drought — if we were to go up into the vineyard and the top of the hill here you'd see cracks you could put your fist into."

Scenic Rim Lucerne co-owner Jenny Jenner said La Niña, a Pacific Ocean weather event that brings wetter weather, had not done enough to replenish bore water or refill dams around the region.

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"The La Niña's failed us in the Fassifern and Lockyer valleys," she said.

"We just haven't had any decent rain this summer to put in Moogerah Dam — a lot of people's dams are empty.

"There's a good percentage of farmers who will not be able to produce what they normally do and that goes for vegetables, fodder crops, cattle, anything like that.

"Once the water runs out of the area, which happened about 15 years ago, the town sort of tends to die a little bit because the farmers can't produce as much produce."

The Jenners will struggle to grow their main crop of lucerne hay and Mr Jenner said it would dramatically lower their production.

"Only limited amount with the bore water — not the whole farm — a lot of the farm won't have a thing on it at all," he said.

The Jenners and the rest of the farmers in the region are facing a year with no water at all.

Ms Jenner said he was hoping the state government had learnt from the last drought and built more water storage.

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"I wish the government had more foresight to put in more water storage," she said.

"The urban areas are growing so much — there are so many people moving into the areas, but they're not making any more dams.

"What we really need in the produce producing areas is more water security and we need the governments to do that."

Queensland Farmers Federation (QFF) water policy adviser Sharon McIntosh said the state government should have spent the drought-free years preparing more water storage, be it a new dam or allowing farmers to store water more easily on their farms.

She said climate change meant droughts would become worse and more frequent — so the time to act was yesterday.

"There is some slow traction happening in government in regard to climate change, however I think there still is a lot of headway that needs to be done in incorporating climate change into policy, especially water," Ms McIntosh said.

"We're going to have longer periods of drought and when we do have rain, we're going to have lots of it — but the issue when we have lots of rain is we've got nowhere to store it."

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Ms McIntosh said the rebates and concessions on utilities offered to farmers in drought affected regions must continue.

Farmers pivot to diversify farms, tourism bid

A spokesman for Queensland Water Minister Glenn Butcher said water providers were consulting with farmers about how to improve water security and were providing support by increasing usable water allocations and giving utilities concessions to drought declared areas.

The farmers were being tided over by the support of tourists and shoppers, encouraged by state government programs, and diversification of their farms.

Since lucerne would not do well without irrigation, the Jenners had decided to pivot to something less water intensive.

"Basically you can grow dry-land sunflowers — we haven't irrigated them at all. We have been lucky because we've had a bit of rain," Ms Jenner said.

"When they flower, everybody who drives through town will be able to see them and they'll make everybody happy as sunflowers do, but also create and event for the town so the businesses can enjoy some tourism coming in."

The flowers would not be for eating, but for a festival.

Ms Jenner said she hoped to sell dinners among the flowers, yoga classes, helicopter rides, and more at the Kalbar Sunshine and Sunflowers Day to help them through an otherwise tight year.

Mr McMaugh was complimentary of the state government's 'Go Local, Grow Local' campaign and the relaxing of regulations that allowed him to sell his wine in the Scenic Rim Farm Box.

But he said the best help when the future was so uncertain was a visit and a smile.

"That activity has a big morale boost on people out here when they come out here, and they're positive and they want to buy something, and there's an opportunity for some social value there, which is difficult to quantify," Mr McMaugh said.

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usr: 1
This is interesting!