Water For Wildlife & Rice farming achieves triple bottom line outcomes by producing ecological and socio-economic benefits, a win – win for nature and production.
Caldwell farmer, Peter McDonald first had the idea of Water for Wildlife and Rice (WWR) after seeing once thriving rice crops habitats reduced to bare, lifeless paddocks.
Much of Australia's water (especially in the Murray-Darling Basin) is managed for either agricultural or environmental purposes. As it stands the two management processes are in parallel and no one site aims to deliver outcomes for both wildlife and agriculture. By tweaking the agricultural landscape, food production and enhanced biodiversity conservation can occur at the same time, achieving win-wins for agriculture!
Peter teamed up with Western Murray Land Improvement Group (WMLIG) and Ricegrowers’ Association of Australia (RGA) and others to formulate the project that has since attracted partners including the Federal Government’s Farming Together initiative.
The team decided that the project had to be capable of achieving a triple bottom line through socio-economic and ecological outcomes for it to be successful. With this in mind, the project was split into two focus components: 'water for wildlife' and 'water for rice'.
Water for Wildlife
Thewater for wildlifecomponent will facilitate investment into enhancing existing rice crops to provide suitable surrogate wetlands for a diversity of over 40 species of birds, 6 species of lizards, 2 species of snakes, the Eastern Long Necked Turtle and 6 species of frogs. This will be achieved through crowd funding and guided farm tours for tourists. This kind of investment will benefit the many natural species in the area whilst maintaining a known income from the lease of the water, through the water for rice project.
Rice crops have long-acted as surrogate wetlands for which species including the endangered Southern Bell Frog and Australasian Bittern have utilised in their breeding and feeding cycles. The crops, along with the farm dams and irrigation channels used to deliver the water, form temporary wetlands that sustain wildlife populations that are not necessarily provided for in environmental water delivery programs.
An increase in water prices along with a decrease in the water available in the district has meant that many farmers have adopted water-saving measures to grow their rice, but this has had an impact on the wildlife habitat. With up to 75 days less days of water being held in a rice crop in what is kind of like a pond, native species have been forced out of crops and often at crucial breeding stages.
The link for the crowdfunding Water for Wildlife and Rice page and explanatory video can be seen below:
The water for ricecomponent was designed to facilitate the relationship between rice growers demanding water with supply from entitlement owners in the Central Murray Region. WWR aim to engage Water Entitlement Owners (WEO) in the Central Murray Region – for example retired farmers – who are no longer actively using their water, however want to keep their water entitlements within the local area to become members of a Co-operative venture. WWR will also engage Rice Growers interested in increasing their water security to grow rice in the region as members.
Those who currently farm irrigated land in the Murray Valley rely heavily on water entitlements owned by others to fulfil their irrigation needs for rice production (and/or grain, fodder, dairy). This project aims to encourage WEO to lease their GS entitlement to local farmers for a defined period, rather than punting on the allocation market to keep water in the region. Access to irrigation water means productive farms which provide business and employment opportunities for people in our communities. If people are retained, so are education and health services.
To test the viability of the lease option against trading on the allocation market, a case study was conducted looking at leasing 100 GS entitlements leased at 5% of the capital value for three year periods over the past 20 years. At today’s value of $1300/ML that lease payment at 5% would be $6,500 per year. Based on the last 20 years of water availability, the return to the water owner from leasing or selling on the allocation market was the same on average, if zero allocation years were excluded from the analysis. There was a $3/ML difference on average when zero
Rice is a water intensive crop and growing it is entirely dependent on the availability of water for irrigation. In periods of drought or when there is low or zero water available, rice cannot be grown.
Rice can only be grown on approved soils and is regulated by the rice water use policies of the various irrigation corporations
The Australian rice industry leads the world in water use efficiency. From paddock to plate, Australian grown rice uses 50% less water than the global average.
In the region rice farming has flow on effects to other sectors of the economy and plays an important role in maintaining jobs, propping up the retail sector and infrastructure (i.e. Rice Mills).
Australian rice growers play an important role in food security as rice sustains two-thirds of the world’s population (Rice Growers Association of Australia).
Rice farms are a haven for all sorts of plants and animals. Rice bays and irrigation channels are an ideal home for insects and animals including turtles, water birds and billions of frogs.
The urban communities of Deniliquin, Finley, Jerilderie, Moulamein and Wakool have a high dependency on irrigated agriculture. Around 90% of businesses in these centres are directly reliant on irrigated agriculture. Rice and dairy producers make up around 75% of the farm businesses and have a high dependency on irrigation