Water shortages on the major irrigation rivers has caused the 2019 cotton crop in some valleys in NSW to be halved – at least – with dam storages in northern NSW falling to critical levels.
In the Namoi Valley, the Keepit Dam is likely to cease flows by December and further “hard decisions” on water supply to follow, as the dam could fall to two per cent capacity by the end of the year.
Because of the drought, the cotton harvest in the Namoi Valley will be cut by half, a heartbreaking scenario for growers as cotton prices hover at record levels between $600 to $650 a bale.
Also the Macquarie Valley could see the amount of cotton planted fall by up to 60 per cent.
Carryover water allocations on the Macquarie have already been slashed by 30pc.
The dire situation of water storages was revealed by WaterNSW, with dam levels falling to “critical” low levels at Keepit and Split Rock despite recent rain in the north.
In the Macquarie Valley, irrigators are being forced to pay high prices for temporary water.
Gus O’Brien, “Hatton”, Warren, has just put in 490 hectares of cotton, varieties 748 and 746, but had to tough it out on the market to get temporary water, paying $350 to $400 a megalitre.
“It is very expensive temporary water and it is only made possible because of the way cotton prices are,” he said.
“All the water used is carryover allocated two years ago. We’ve already had 30pc of carryover taken off us. We’ll still get a reasonable crop, but profitability is going to be hit.”
The crop is planted, but recent rain didn’t help, crusting some areas.
He’d been able to keep some run-off water from recent rain, but estimated the Macquarie Valley would only plant about 30pc to 40pc of last year’s cropping area.
He believed though there would be still be a healthy supply of cotton seed by April for those seeking stock feed.
Meanwhile, WaterNSW has indicated water supplies in the Namoi are “critical”.
WaterNSW said it estimated that even with the additional water from Split Rock in the past few days, Keepit Dam could fall to 2pc of capacity by the year’s end.
Some stock and domestic customers and irrigators will not receive any more water while conditions persist, and remaining customers will be severely restricted in what water can be extracted.
“Without further inflows, releases from Keepit will likely cease in December.”
Namoi Cotton’s Dave Lindsay confirmed the cotton harvest for the 2019 year was likely to be halved in the Namoi Valley unless a major rain event occurred by December. Farmers were likely to plant later, even into early December.