THE 2011-12 cotton crop was the first irrigated cotton that Trangie farmer Geoff Chase had grown in 10 years, and it was also his last.
His farm, “Waitara”, has been cut off from the Trangie-Nevertire Irrigation Scheme, which uses water from Burrendong Dam.
“Our water has gone back to the government for the environment,” Mr Chase said.
In 2010 the federal government announced $162 million in funding to save water in the Macquarie River catchment through the use of more efficient irrigation infrastructure.
The Trangie-Nevertire Scheme received $115m to modernise, including the provision of a stock and domestic pipeline, channel lining and on-farm upgrades.
It also meant rationalisation of the scheme with about 40 irrigators able to stay on, with 18 farmers at the channel’s tail end being cut off and their water purchased by the government.
“We are actually the last one on the main channel probably about 160 kilometres from the pump site,” Mr Chase said.
“We won’t have any water left at all.
“We will be shut off, and all our channels will be pushed in (at a cost to the federal government).”
Mr Chase sold his 1.33 megalitres to the government early this year, but was able to grow this year’s cotton on carry-over water.
He admits to mixed feelings about the loss of irrigation because his family were inaugural members of the scheme, and irrigation has been a part of life his entire farming career.
“The Trangie-Nevertire Irrigation Scheme is a private off-river irrigation scheme, which started watering in the late 1960s,” he said.
“I have grown up with it because I came home from school and I’ve been working on it ever since.”
however, the buy-back has allowed them to pay off debt, put money towards succession planning, increase the productivity of their dryland farming and their Angus stud, Waitara, with some money put on hold while they assess their position.
At the moment they have about 150 stud cattle, 250 commercial breeders and one potential area of expansion was supplying Russia with Angus heifers.
They were also in the process of setting up a feedlot, having already obtained council approval and were half way through construction.
Mr Chase said it would be an opportunist feedlot, as well as a resource for dry times for young cattle so they could conserve natural pastures.
When considering the long-term viability of the scheme, Mr Chase said the farmers who were chopped-off had no other option.
“The costs were getting so great and the reliability of water diminishing to only a 42 per cent chance of 100pc allocation on a yearly basis, and the fairly high losses because of long channels,” he said.
One reason farmers agreed to be cut off was because they would still have access to stock water, which they relied on from the scheme.
“I don’t know whether people would have agreed if we didn’t have stock water coming again,” Mr Chase said.
“They are putting a pipeline from the Macquarie River, and it will come down here and we’ll have stock and domestic water 24/7.”
The loss of the irrigation would also decrease the value of their property, but Mr Chase said the government buy-back money had gone part way towards appeasing this.
“It has reduced the value because developed irrigation land with water is worth about $600 to $800 a hectare more than ordinary dryland farming,” he said.
“In the short term the money from the government has gone some of the way to overcoming that loss.
“When water becomes scarce we won’t be paying big overhead costs with no water.”