Greg Barila

Journalist. Editor. Social Media specialist.

Don't Let Mildura Wither on the Vine

 MILDURA is about 400km down the road from Adelaide. Even if you've never been there, Mildura has been to you. 
One of Australia's biggest food producing regions, Mildura is the oranges in your fruit bowl, the mushrooms in your crisper, the dried fruit in your pantry and the wine on your dinner table.

It's the same story for Renmark, Shepparton, Swan Hill and Griffith.

At its peak, Mildura was one of the world's biggest producers of dried fruit and for decades has been a major producer of citrus, wine and table grapes.

For a hundred years, putting food on your dinner table has helped sustain the thousands of farming families that make Mildura and its satellite towns a living, breathing community.

My family, part of the great wave of Italian immigration during the 1950s, has been one of them.

Now Mildura, and other towns along the Murray Darling basin, is facing economic ruin in the shape of cuts to precious irrigation water.

Like me, many angry farmers are demanding to know; just how did we get to this point?

It's true over-allocation of water has contributed to the dire state of our river.

Yet even farmers in Sunraysia and the Riverland have long condemned the profligacy of Queensland's cotton farmers and the rice fields of the Hay plains.

It may even be true that towns like Mildura and Renmark should never have been seen as viable farming regions - but should hard working families be sent to the wall for decisions made long ago?

And what of the inaction of governments past and present, who failed to build dams then and refuse to recycle stormwater now?

Governments, if they're serious about restoring the health of the Murray, must help farmers invest in more water efficient practices, restructure their businesses or properly compensate those who choose to leave the land.

If cuts go ahead, untold numbers of families, already crippled with debt and hanging on by the finger nails, simply won't make it.

They'll have no choice but to walk away from their farms, which are not just their places of work, but their homes.

If they're forced, through law or necessity, to sell water into the system for the environment, many may end up with farms with not a drop of water to grow a grape.

As for selling up, who'd buy a farm without water? Worthless dirt.

Murray-Darling Authority chief Rob Freeman says 800 jobs would be lost directly from within the basin if allocations were cut between 27 and 35 per cent.

Some 3000 more jobs outside the basin would dry up.

Anyone who understands how deeply farming is woven into the fabric of country towns will know these numbers are conservative.

Farming dollars power economies like Mildura's. The bakeries, supermarkets, tyre fitters and clothing shops
would be very lonely places without them, on both sides of the counter.

Every less orange or bunch of grapes grown in the Murray Darling basin will inevitably mean you end up paying more for inferior quality overseas produce.

And the bloke reaching for the apples next to you? He may have been a farmer, once.

This piece first appeared on AdelaideNow on October 18, 2010.