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Tech & Science SunRice sheds more jobs as Murray Darling Basin Plan 'failing the rice industry'

07:51  27 november  2019
07:51  27 november  2019 Source:   abc.net.au

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One of Australia's largest food exporters will lose more jobs in the new year after failing to entice growers to plant rice crops.

Most rice -growing farms produce more than one agricultural commodity, including crops and livestock. Farm financial performance is a key driver of change in the rice -growing industry . At a Murray – Darling Basin Authority workshop held in Finley in early 2016, rice growers reported that

a red and white sign: SunRice's Deniliquin Mill has cut more than 70 staff in the past 12 months. ()© Provided by ABC News SunRice's Deniliquin Mill has cut more than 70 staff in the past 12 months. ()

One of Australia's largest food exporters will lose more jobs in the new year after failing to entice growers to plant rice crops.

SunRice will shed 100 more jobs at its mills and grain-storage sites in southern New South Wales.

Since last November, 230 jobs have been cut at the food manufacturer.

The 2019 rice harvest was the second-lowest on record, with low allocations and high prices for water making rice production an impossible undertaking for many growers.

SunRice had hoped to counter these challenges by offering record prices for 2020 crops to entice growers to plant and buy water.

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This article is more than 1 year old. Murray - Darling basin plan fails environment and wastes money – experts. 'Real jeopardy': independent panel lays into Murray - Darling basin management. Read more . They say while it’s possible to point to improvements in pockets of the river system the overall

The Murray – Darling basin is a large geographical area in the interior of southeastern Australia. Its name is derived from its two major rivers, the Murray River and the Darling River.

Fixed-price contracts of $750 per tonne — up from $411 last year — were announced, but SunRice CEO Rob Gordon said they had not been enough to ensure a substantial crop for next year.

"The cost of water is just so high that we didn't get a tremendous response," Mr Gordon said.

"What we have been able to do is secure enough rice, together with the crop from this year carried in to next year, that we'll have a milling program on one shift at Deniliquin and Leeton through until early 2021.

"What we hope is that there'll be an improvement in seasonal conditions between now and then and we keep a core of our skills until that point in time" he said.

Mr Gordon confirmed there would be 55 jobs axed at Leeton from next April, with 25 to go in Deniliquin and 20 to go from Australian Grain Storage sites.

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Murray Darling water woes strip another 100 jobs from drought-hit rice towns. SunRice chairman Rob Gordon said a report he commissioned showed the combined effect of the Murray Darling Basin Plan and state river operators who manage farmers' allocations, had delivered unintended outcomes.

The Murray – Darling Basin Plan was developed to manage the Basin as a whole connected system. We know the Basin encompasses a complex network of people, industries and organisations with competing interests and this is why water needs to be managed carefully for future

Basin plan part of the problem

SunRice said ongoing drought was partly to blame for the low rice crop and job losses, but Mr Gordon said the Murray Darling Basin Plan was failing the rice industry.

The food manufacturer commissioned an external report in to the plan which concluded there had been unintended consequences that had had a detrimental impact on New South Wales irrigators.

Mr Gordon said the report found up to 1,000 gigalitres of water were flowing to South Australia on top of the levels originally committed to in the National Water Initiative, half of which would be enough to sustain a healthy rice industry for a year.

"Water in-flows are at record lows, so that's always going to be a tough time for farmers in the Riverina," Mr Gordon said.

"What the report that we've commissioned highlights is that there are further issues exacerbated by the way the plan has been rolled out and also the way that New South Wales has allocated water.

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Murray - Darling Basin Authority had 'a dishonest culture', inquiry told. Read more . A spokeswoman for the NSW Department of Industry and water said NSW was working with the MDBA and is on track to lodge the water resource plans by the deadline.

The Murray - Darling basin plan was introduced in 2012 to tilt the balance back towards the environment. The Murray - Darling basin plan sets targets in each catchment for recovering water for the environment So how much water does cotton use? Less than rice but more than citrus and nuts.

"That means that these impacts are felt even more so than they might be in a normal drought." he said.

Deniliquin is the largest town in the Edward River local government area, and Mayor Norm Brennan said the job losses would be a blow for the region.

"It makes it very hard, when you lose another 20 jobs on top of the 50-odd that we lost 12 months ago, and normally when we are gearing up for a rice harvest," he said."They can employ up to 400 people in the rice industry. That's not happening at the moment and unfortunately that means it's going to be a very tight and hard time for Deniliquin and the region."

Mr Brennan agreed blame for the job losses and the diminishing rice industry partly fell on the Murray Darling Basin Plan and those implementing it.

"Instead of the people who can make these decisions keeping their head in the sand, let them stand up and have a look around at exactly what's happening," the Mayor said.

"No-one wants to admit that the [Murray Darling Basin] Plan is not working properly. We never thought we'd have consequences like we are today.

"To use the excuse that we've got to implement the plan by 2024 as it is … without showing consequences and being adaptive and having a balanced outcome, you'll find that a lot of these communities won't be there as we know them today."

NSW Government threatens to walk away from Murray Darling Basin Plan .
The NSW Deputy Premier tells the Federal Government drought conditions have put unfair pressure on the state and that South Australia has been benefitting from the Murray Darling Basin Plan to the detriment of NSW.The Berejiklian Government said the 2012 plan needed to have more flexibility in times of drought.

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