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Damned if they do: the LNP’s water problem

The Queensland opposition’s call for less of Wivenhoe Dam to be used as a flood buffer last year could come back to bite it, a political expert says.
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The dam’s operation is now in the spotlight, with a commission of inquiry set to investigate whether this month’s Brisbane River flooding was made worse because the government-owned dam operator initially acted too slowly to release excess water.

However, in March, October and December, the opposition called on authorities to look at reducing the portion of dam capacity set aside for flood protection so that more could be used for drinking water storage.

Wivenhoe Dam can hold a total of 2.6 million megalitres but is deemed to be “full” of drinking water when it reaches 1.15 million megalitres.

The remaining space is used to store water from heavy rain events in a bid to reduce floods along the Brisbane River.

When the dam was at 94 per cent of its water storage capacity last March, opposition water spokesman Jeff Seeney told State Parliament “it would be absurd to release water from Wivenhoe Dam” until authorities reviewed options to increase water storage.

In October, Mr Seeney criticised the state government over releases of water from the dam, saying they were being done at a time when the dam was only at 40 per cent of its “true capacity”.

“Isn’t this release of water from Wivenhoe Dam, when it is holding only 40 per cent of its available storage capacity, a clear indication that the government has learned nothing from the water crisis and is still failing to plan for the next inevitable drought?” he asked Natural Resources Minister Stephen Robertson.

Deputy Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg repeated the call as recently as December 20, when he told Fairfax Radio 4BC it would be sensible to “start looking at things like can we actually eat into the flood buffer a little bit more”.

“And indeed, if we could store 50 per cent rather than 40 per cent before we let it spill, that’s an additional one year supply,” Mr Springborg said at the time.

“There’s still a lot of air room in Wivenhoe Dam that we could potentially capture some further water.”

Some engineers now believe government-owned dam operator Seqwater should have acted faster to release more water after Wivenhoe rapidly rose well beyond its full water storage level on the weekend before the Brisbane River flood peak.

Seqwater figures show the dam level rose from 106 per cent of its normal water storage limit on the morning of Friday, January 7, to 148 per cent by the following Monday.

The Bureau of Meteorology had predicted further heavy rainfall. The dam operators had to ramp up the scale of their major water releases from the dam in the days before the January 13 Brisbane River flood peak.

Queensland University of Technology political science professor Clive Bean said the opposition may find it hard to attack the government for being too slow to bring the dam back down towards its normal level, given previous comments.

“It may well be that the opposition will find it more difficult to make their criticism stick when they were making comments like that in a previous time, unless they can in a sense sheet it back to: ‘we were talking about specific circumstances,’” Dr Bean said.

“It’s probably one of those things that will come back to bite them a little bit but probably not totally.

“Politicians often find a way out of statements they’ve made; in a way it’s easier for an opposition to make statements off the cuff and qualify them later.”

Mr Seeney said yesterday his central point had been that a review of the dam operating rules was needed “to get better usage of the infrastructure”.

He said he had stressed at the time that flood mitigation remained important and stood by his call for a re-examination of the dam operating rules.

“We were calling for a review of the operating rules that had been in place almost unchanged since 1978 that took no account of the advances that had been made in weather forecasts and climate patterns,” he said.

“That need for a review applies just as much to the flood mitigation rules of the dam as it does to the water supply rules of the dam.”

Following the Brisbane River flood, Seqwater emphasised it had operated the dam according to the state government-approved manual.

However, Mr Seeney said the rules were “restrictive” and should have been reviewed sooner.

Independent Member for Burnett Rob Messenger, who quit the Liberal National Party last year, accused his former party of making a “serious water policy mistake”.

The state government last week released the Wivenhoe Dam operating manual but blacked out large portions, claiming terrorists might take advantage of an uncensored version.

The Queensland Water Commission last year identified a range of potential water sources for further investigation, including more desalination sites and use of recycled water to top up the Hinze and North Pine dams.

It outlined four options to secure more water from dams and weirs in the future, including the possibility of raising Wivenhoe Dam operating levels.

The dam’s operation will be among issues examined by a statewide commission of inquiry on the floods, which is due to produce an initial report by August and a final report by January next year.

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Wheat market stronger: AWB

AWB’s 2010/11 season estimated pool returns (EPRs) are higher for most grades this week, reflecting a firmer international market and a slightly weaker Australian dollar.
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AWB’s estimated pool return (EPR) for benchmark APW wheat in the eastern pool is up $5 to $365 a tonne, while FED1 is up $6 to $277 a tonne and stockfeed SFW1 is up $6 to $285 a tonne. In AWB’s western pool APW wheat is up $5 to $377 a tonne and ANW1 noodle wheat is unchanged at $510 a tonne (FOB, excl GST).

AWB General Manager Commodities, Mitch Morison, said the improvement in EPRs was demand-driven, as the international market shows increased sales activity in a world where wheat stocks are relatively tight.

“The market was subdued through the Christmas period, but we are definitely seeing more buying activity now for grain from the European Union and the United States; indeed last week the USDA reported US sales of over one million tonnes for just one week,” he said.

“It is many months yet until the next northern hemisphere harvest and buyers are aware that world stocks are tight, particularly for good quality milling grain, so they must secure supplies or cope with the potential for even higher prices.

“Australia is gaining its share of customer interest and with the current frenzy of activity we have senior AWB representatives visiting Asian customers to help build on demand for all wheat grades, working with customers to help them understand the supply picture from Australia this year.

“In the feed wheat market there is good business occurring, as we had predicted, with Australian feed wheat continuing to displace corn into Asian feed markets.

“Without question buyers are keen to secure supply from Australia and our pools are gaining benefit from these opportunities.

“This week AWB will be making a $39 million top-up payment to growers who utilised AWB’s harvest finance for their 2010/11 wheat pool deliveries.

“It will mean that AWB harvest finance clients will have received (or have available) payments representing around 80% of the current estimated pool return (EPR) for 2010/11 season wheat,” Mr Morison said.

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Steers hit 260c/kg as supply wanes

Livestock Shipping Services (LSS) export manager Paul Keenan.PRICES as high as 260 cents a kilogram liveweight are being paid for cattle as intense competition from the live export sector and supply concerns heat up WA’s cattle market.
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Both Wellard and Livestock Shipping Services (LSS) are currently sourcing cattle to fill boats leaving in the next month, bound for Indonesia, Turkey, Israel and the Middle East.

While neither exporter would confirm they were paying prices as high as 260c/kg, they did admit that they were paying record prices to secure supply.

At the Landmark Boyanup cattle sale earlier this month, a line of 228kg Angus steers hit a top of 260c/kg in an absolutely red hot sale. Long-time Farm Weekly markets reporter Rob Francis said it was the hottest sale he had ever witnessed.

Wellard managing director Steve Meerwald said 260c/kg was not their official price and was above their schedule but the prices they were paying were up there with the highest they had seen.

Mr Meerwald said they were paying the market price, which was favourable as a reflection of the competition in the market place.

“I suspect that there is some manoeuvring being done by a whole range of parties to try to secure supply,” Mr Meerwald said.

“I’ve certainly had no-one come to me and say they need more money.

“There is a relatively strong and competitive market due to the short supply and as we’ve seen before with sheep, there are official prices and unofficial prices.

“While it’s tough to be having to pay these sorts of prices, particularly with the dollar at parity or thereabouts, I think it’s a great story for producers and a confidence builder relative to having multiple outlets and competition for their product.

“It generally indicates the strength of the protein markets around the world and the impact we hope that they’ll have on Australian producers for many years to come, in terms of a consistent demand for quality products from Australia.”

Mr Meerwald said they were loading for a shipment to Indonesia due out at the end of the month, as well as one to Turkey and possibly another bound for the Middle East.

He said they were sourcing bos Indicus heifers and steers under 350kg for Indonesia, feeder and slaughter bos Taurus cattle for Turkey and heavier bos Indicus cattle for the Middle East.

Due to the short supply, Mr Meerwald said they were buying in the Eastern States as well as WA and as a result would be doing split-port loadings.

“What we can get from here, we’ll get from here and what we can’t, we’ll balance that up from the east,” he said.

“Most of the supply for the Turkish shipment will come from the east and we’ll put on here what we can get within our budget.

“We’ll source from on-farm and where appropriate, we’ll get some of the later cattle from the saleyards but they still have to comply with the import country’s protocols so that does provide some challenges with saleyard cattle.”

LSS export manager Paul Keenan said the company was paying record prices to secure cattle for shipments to Turkey and Israel.

“The company is paying record prices but we believe it’s very good for producers and the cattle industry in general,” Mr Keenan said.

“If producers have any cattle under 320kg for sale, we’d urge them to contact their agent or one of our buyers.”

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Extra water too late for some farmers

Dairy farmer Dale Hanks said he would be at the auction and would look at buying another 100MG but only if the price was reasonable.
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WITH nearly a third of South West irrigation farmers registered to buy water missing out at Harvey Water’s November auction, strong demand and prices are expected at a second auction to be held next month.

But many farmers are unhappy that it has taken so long for the extra allocation to be put up for auction.

Last week Harvey Water and the Water Corporation announced that an additional 2.2GL from Logue Brook Dam would be auctioned on February 8.

The decision was welcomed by Water Minister Bill Marmion, who said South West irrigation dams had received little inflow since the first auction of 5.3GL in November.

“It makes sense for the water to be available this summer rather than just leaving it sitting unused in Logue Brook,” Mr Marmion said.

With Harvey and Waroona irrigation farmers facing summer allocations of around 34 per cent of their full water entitlements, strong bidding at the November auction pushed prices to record levels, with some producers paying up to $300 a megalitre for water.

Harvey Water’s Geoff Calder said dairy farmers had been against the split auction but they were very happy now that more water was being made available.

“With closing prices for the last lots of water sold at the November auction as strong as the first, indicating there was still unmet demand from South West irrigators, we do expect demand and prices to be strong again this time,” Mr Calder said.

Just 57 of the 81 registered buyers were able to secure water at the November auction of 5.3GL, with many unhappy with then Water Minister Dr Graham Jacobs’ decision to hold back the remaining 2.2GL of the 7.5GL initially set aside for irrigation farmers.

“I think the smarter ones paid the money they needed to pay in November and this will be a mop-up for those who weren’t as bullish or aggressive (in bidding),” Mr Calder said.

“That is in the past now and at least that water is available now and we will move forward from here.”

Mr Calder said he did not expect numbers at the coming auction to be as high as the last one, which at around 100 was “a world record” for them.

Yarloop dairy farmer Tony Ferraro, who spent $54,000 buying 223 useable megalitres at the November auction, said he would not be attending next month’s auction.

“Had they put all the water up at the one time, the price wouldn’t have gone up so much and we could have all made decisions when they needed to be made,” Mr Ferraro said.

“February is just too late for us.

“What’s the good of me buying water now that I have dried the land out.

“There was no guarantee back in November that there would be any more water made available, so we had to make a decision on the day and we bought enough to keep us going.”

Around 21mm of rain early in January had “saved a few day’s watering” but was not a major gain.

West of Harvey, dairy farmer Dale Hanks said he would be at the auction and would look at buying another 100MG but only if the price was reasonable.

“Sixty eight dollars a share was ridiculous, if it is around about $40 a share, I will probably look at it,” Mr Hanks said.

“I have got other options in place as I have bought my own hay and I have silage coming in.

“Everyone will still go to the auction as even those who bought water before would have used most of it by now.”

Mr Hanks bought 100 shares or transferable water entitlements (TWE) at $68/share, which was around 34ML of water.

With the volume charge added on, this equated to about $230/ML.

“We irrigate with our centre pivot and we haven’t flood irrigated anything, basically we have gone straight into lotfeeding cows with heaps of hay and pasture,” Mr Hanks said.

“We are getting through the season and we are meeting our milk budget, but our input costs are so much higher and our milk price has not adjusted to reflect that.”

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Stockplan workshops roll-out for WA producers

Sheep and cattle producers have the opportunity to improve farm viability and responsiveness during the dry season, through a series of workshops offered by the Department of Agriculture and Food.
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The business program Stockplan can assist cattle and sheep producers, advisors and agribusinesses in exploring management options in the early stages of drought, during drought and recovery.

Sheep and cattle producers are encouraged to register their interest in one-day training workshops which will be held across the agricultural region.

Department research officer Jeisane Accioly said the roll-out in Western Australia followed a highly successful program in New South Wales.

“Producers in many parts of WA are currently contending with the extended dry season,” she said.

“These workshops take a whole-of-business approach to managing climate risks, minimising the long-term impact and improving recovery.”

StockPlan workshops will include information on: options for livestock such feed, sell or agist; feed requirements and cost; stock structure and cash flow effects when selling or buying livestock; and designing a stock containment facility to carry stock.

“The workshop will provide hands-on experience with a software program designed to explore these questions and many more to help producers manage this dry season and be in the best position possible to recover when it breaks,” Ms Accioly said.

The workshops, funded by DAFWA and Rural Business Development Corporation, will run between February and June with dates and locations depending on producer interest. Workshop numbers and places will be limited.

Industry & Investment (I&I) NSW livestock officer Greg Meaker was recently in WA to support department officers in the delivery of the Stockplan program.

Mr Meaker said a survey of producers who undertook the training in NSW reported that after attending the course, they were more confident in their approach to drought management.

“The course also led to changes in producers’ practices that resulted in early destocking with a market advantage and enhanced capacity to retain and feed stock, maintain productivity of the core herd or flock and improve ground cover,” he said.

To register interest or for more information about Stockplan, contact Ms Accioly or James Dee on 9780 6100.

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Riverlands get briefed on flood potential

THE State Emergency Management Council has met with mayors of the Riverland Councils to discuss the potential risk of inundation in their areas and preparations should that occur.
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Minister for Families and Communities Jennifer Rankine said she welcomed the opportunity to discuss issues with the mayors and looked forward to working co-operatively as this situation develops.

River Murray flow rates into South Australia are now predicted to reach and remain in the range of 80,000 megalitres a day to 90,000 megalitres a day crossing the South Australia-Victoria border for the next few weeks, subject to additional rainfall and changes in River operations.

“The current level of flow is already causing localised inundation in low-lying areas near the River Murray,” Ms Rankine said.

“It is expected that the flow will slowly increase to the peak in late January or early February 2011, and then slowly decrease during March 2011.

“I am advised that a flow of 90,000 megalitres a day is not a threat to towns and this flow is well within the normal historical flow range for the River Murray in South Australia.

“It is nothing like the 350,000 megalitres that we experienced during the floods of the 1950s.

“We are monitoring the situation closely and we are expecting to see increased flows coming down the river system over the next few weeks.

“Areas which could be inundated include campsites, causeways, roads, floodplains and riverfront shacks. Low-lying caravan parks have been fore-warned and are moving cabins to higher ground.

“Our main priority is to minimise the effect on people and their properties, contain the inundated area and then work quickly on any recovery efforts.

“The SES has been working closely with local councils and Mayors in the regions which stand to be affected and today’s meeting was another chance to talk about how we can best prepare for any potential inundation.”

While the high flows continue, the Department for Water will issue weekly Flow Advice Updates as flow projections, levels and timings are reviewed and updated.

Flow Advice Updates and River Murray inundation maps are available at 梧桐夜网waterconnect.sa.gov419论坛

Emergency Services are working closely with other government agencies to monitor the situation and keep local communities informed.

The Minster said she looked forward to continue working co-operatively with the councils during this time.

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Government telling one side of Basin story: Birmingham

AUSTRALIANS angry at the bungling of water reform deserve to know the full story surrounding legal advice over preparation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, Coalition Basin spokesman Simon Birmingham said.
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A Freedom of Information application by Senator Birmingham for legal advice, to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, relating to the weighting of economic, social and environmental considerations in preparing the Basin Plan has been refused.

Conflicting legal advice was central to a protracted dispute with water Minister Tony Burke that led to Mike Taylor last month announcing he would retire as Authority Chair at the end of this month. Despite seven weeks having now passed, Mr Burke is yet to announce Mr Taylor’s replacement.

“Thanks to Mike Taylor, everyone knows there’s conflicting advice, yet the Government insists on keeping one half of the story secret,” Senator Birmingham said.

“If it was good enough for Tony Burke last October to release his handpicked advice to suit his own purpose, why not release all of it? It shouldn’t even need a Freedom of Information application.

“All stakeholders, from irrigators and Basin communities to environmental groups, deserve to be fully informed, not selectively informed.

“The Government continues to spend ever more on buying back water licences of various security levels for questionable benefit while failing to progress water saving infrastructure upgrades and is already breaking promises of no delays to the Basin Plan timetable.

“Releasing all legal advice might at least go some way towards restoring confidence in the integrity of the Basin Plan preparation process.”

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Government telling one side of Basin story: Birmingham

Simon Birmingham.
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AUSTRALIANS angry at the bungling of water reform deserve to know the full story surrounding legal advice over preparation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, Coalition Basin spokesman Simon Birmingham said.

A Freedom of Information application by Senator Birmingham for legal advice, to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, relating to the weighting of economic, social and environmental considerations in preparing the Basin Plan has been refused.

Conflicting legal advice was central to a protracted dispute with water Minister Tony Burke that led to Mike Taylor last month announcing he would retire as Authority Chair at the end of this month. Despite seven weeks having now passed, Mr Burke is yet to announce Mr Taylor’s replacement.

“Thanks to Mike Taylor, everyone knows there’s conflicting advice, yet the Government insists on keeping one half of the story secret,” Senator Birmingham said.

“If it was good enough for Tony Burke last October to release his handpicked advice to suit his own purpose, why not release all of it? It shouldn’t even need a Freedom of Information application.

“All stakeholders, from irrigators and Basin communities to environmental groups, deserve to be fully informed, not selectively informed.

“The Government continues to spend ever more on buying back water licences of various security levels for questionable benefit while failing to progress water saving infrastructure upgrades and is already breaking promises of no delays to the Basin Plan timetable.

“Releasing all legal advice might at least go some way towards restoring confidence in the integrity of the Basin Plan preparation process.”

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On the road to rebuild Queensland

AS flood waters recede enough for Queensland farmers to get into their paddock and assess crop and infrastructure damage and find displaced cattle, the state’s agriculture group AgForce is hitting the road to help them rebuild.
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AgForce has teamed up with leading insurance providers, agribusiness banks, financial advisors and property planning experts to deliver ‘On The Road To Rebuilding’ – a one-stop shop of information and services – beginning in Central Queensland next week.

AgForce CEO Robert Walker said the four day tour would go into the heart of flood-damaged regions, giving farmers around Theodore, Moura, Rolleston, Emerald and Rockhampton access to advice and tools to get back on their feet.

“The situation has moved beyond initial flood response and short-term relief in these areas,” Mr Walker. “The challenge is now to rebuild on-farm infrastructure and kickstart production to ensure the Queensland agricultural industry can recover in the long-term and maintain our vital contribution to the economy, environment and society.”

On The Road To Rebuilding gives flood-affected farmers the chance to speak one-on-one with companies for advice on vital services and information such as:

How to rebuild your herd: what producers need to know about livestock health after flooding and procedures for finding and returning displaced livestock.How to rebuild your property: WFI with advice on assessing insurance needs; AgForce’s mapping team to access flood damage and build a pre and post-flood property condition report, property map, and infrastructure rebuilding plan which will be a vital tool is applying for new and revised loans.How to rebuild livelihood: Rural charity Aussie Helpers on how to access volunteers and donated equipment; Fitzroy Basin Association Inc with information on flood rebuilding grants; and the Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation.How to rebuild: NAB, Commonwealth Bank, Suncorp, Rural Bank, Westpac and ANZ for financial queries; free advice from an independent agribusiness management professional; and QRAA with information on flood relief and recovery assistanceOn The Road To Rebuilding – CQ post-flood tour

Tuesday February 1: Theodore Hotel Motel 8am-11am. BBQ breakfast supplied.Tuesday February 1: Kianga Hall, Moura, 3-6pm. BBQ dinner supplied.Wednesday February 2: Rolleston Town Hall 10am-2pm, BBQ lunch supplied.Thursday February 3: Emerald Town Hall, 8am-12noon. BBQ breakfast & lunch supplied.Friday February 4: DEEDI, Rockhampton 8am-11am, BBQ breakfast supplied.Participants can come at any time during the three-hour sessions, and all are welcome to catch up over a BBQ sponsored by AustSafe Super, with drinks at lunch/dinner events provided by Suncorp.

These sessions are obligation-free and provided at no cost to all primary producers.

Please contact AgForce on (07) 3236 3100 or [email protected]论坛 to RSVP for catering.

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Mandarin supply to be unaffected by Qld floods

AUSTRALIAN grown mandarins will return to supermarket shelves as usual when the season commences in April, with fruit volume, quality and price not expected to be affected by Queensland’s devastating floods.
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CEO of Citrus Australia, Judith Damiani, said the majority of Australian mandarins were grown in flood ravaged central Queensland, however most growers had escaped major crop damage and had good quality fruit remaining.

“About three quarters of Queensland’s commercial mandarin crop is grown in the Gayndah, Mundubbera and Emerald regions which were seriously impacted by the floods, however few crops in the region suffered the major impacts we feared,” Ms Damiani said.

“Whilst there has unfortunately been widespread damage to several orchards, most have large quantities of good quality mandarins still available, which is excellent news for growers and consumers.

“We wish everyone affected a speedy recovery,” she said.

Owner of Glen Grove Orchard at Gayndah, Greg Parr, said approximately 6000 of his orchard’s 65,000 mandarin trees went underwater, with 1500 of these trees severely damaged, however the impact of the fruit losses would be minimal.

“Many growers in the region including us have been experiencing an ‘up year,’ so production wise there will be ample mandarins to meet demand, so consumers need not worry about supply,” Mr Parr said.

“I have spoken to a number of growers in the region and several had sections of their crops damaged, so our focus now will be repairing our infrastructure to protect the mandarins that remain.”

Co-owner of Abbotsleigh Citrus, Michael McMahon, is one of the growers most affected by the floods, with 20 per cent of his Wallaville farm inundated, however will still have plenty of fruit to go to market.

“Our orchard has approximately 50,000 trees in total, so despite the losses suffered the volume we will be delivering to market will be similar to that of the 2010 season,” Mr McMahon said.

“We are confident of being able to harvest most of the fruit that was flooded. However a small number of our trees may take a few seasons to fully recover, and there is also uncertainty regarding the quality of the fruit these trees will produce, so it is likely the effects of these floods will be felt for some time.

“Luckily for most growers however it will be business as usual, and we would like to assure consumers that the quality of the mandarins they will see on the shelves will be of the same high standard that they expect of Aussie growers.”

The Aussie mandarin season runs from April through to October.

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