Left behind in the dust

The farm in February

Still looking green

It’s at this time of year that three distinct classes amongst dairy farmers around here become clear for all to see: the lax, the leaf counters and the irrigators.

The beautiful green pasture seen from our verandah is something of an illusion. Take a closer look and it’s sparser than it was just a few weeks ago when we were squirelling away silage. More importantly, it’s growing at about a third of the speed. In contrast, the irrigators are powering along, growing feed as fast as ever.

Why don’t I irrigate then, you ask? Because I cannot. There is an indefinite moratorium on new irrigation licences for the aquifer that flows beneath our farm because it is dropping unsustainably. According to a report by the Department of Sustainability and Environment:

“Levels of groundwater extraction from the Latrobe Aquifer, in Gippsland, are well in excess of annual recharge. Monitoring of groundwater levels indicates that, as a result, there has been a regional decline of approximately 1 metre per year over the last 30 years (SKM, 2004). It is forecast that this rate of decline will continue for at least the next thirty years.”

Ironically, that’s not because too much water is being used by farmers.

“Whilst detailed estimates vary, the proportions extracted by different users are estimated to fall into three broad categories (Hatton, 2004, Fig. 1):

  • 85,000 ML from oil and gas production in the Bass Strait;
  • 25,000 ML for coal mine stability purposes in the Latrobe Valley; and
  • 10,000 ML for irrigation and industrial purposes…”


Other potential impacts of the coal, oil and gas production are alarming. The report discusses potential land subsidence, sea water intrusion, reduced stream flow and running out of groundwater altogether.

The Australian and Victorian governments have established multi-million dollar assistance packages for irrigators but the rest of the community appears to have been left high and dry.