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http://news.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=274298

The prime minister's prayers for rain have been answered in the parts of eastern Australia ravaged by flooding, but farmers in the region where John Howard actually wanted it to rain have been looking on in frustration.

The southern part of the Murray-Darling Basin has seen some rainfall, but not enough to stave off zero water allocations.

Mr Howard's grave warning in April of no water for irrigators from July 1 in Australia's food bowl has been realised, with soaring fruit and vegetable prices expected to follow.

"It's been biblical rains all along the coast - we've just had a mere fraction of that," says Ted Hatty, a mixed cropping farmer in the NSW Riverina.

"The crops are holding on all right at the moment, I think, but they do need a drink.

"You can see there's dust coming off the paddocks," says Mr Hatty, who has abandoned plans for a rice crop later in the year.

A farmer group leader says the cut-off combined with droughts in other growing regions is a threat to the nation's food security.

"Unless we get widespread flood rains we are not going to get our water storages filled up so this situation could go on quite seriously into next year," AusVeg chairman Michael Badcock says.

"Basically, Australia's in big danger of not being able to feed itself."

Most growers in the southern basin, which spans NSW, Victoria and South Australia, have already been operating without much irrigated water.

"We're all just bloody tired. We're tired of not having any water and trying to plan how to deal without water," says Cheryl Rix, general manager of Western Murray Irrigation in the Sunraysia district.

Many towns will move onto stage four water restrictions from Sunday and farmers will only receive water for livestock and domestic use.

"It's never happened before for our region, so it's just a real adjustment phase for all of us to start with no water," Ms Rix said.

Inflows to the Murray-Darling system recovered in May from all-time lows and were on track in June to exceed the previous year's result.

That wasn't enough to restore allocations but there is hope of a wetter second half in 2007.

Some water would be made available to keep citrus trees going for the fruit harvest and for major companies in the region, Ms Rix says.

But grape and vegetable growers will go without immediately.

She said the vineyards would need water by the end of August.

"If they don't get that at that critical time, basically there won't be a crop for wine grapes next year."

Vegetable supplies have already been hit.

"If you go around now you wouldn't be able to find a zucchini, it's already happening because there's been severe frost in some of these regions," Ms Rix says.

Mr Badcock said beans also were scarce and consumers would soon notice shortages and high prices for broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, lettuce and Asian vegetables.

Carrots, potatoes and pumpkins would be affected later.

He said while Western Australia and New Zealand growers might make up some of the shortfalls, importing fresh produce from elsewhere would be difficult and expensive because of extreme weather worldwide.

While most farmers were resigned to zero allocations, Mr Hatty said the arrival of NSW annual bills averaging $15,000 for water they would not be getting was causing stress.

"A lot of them are very concerned about their ability to be able to pay their water bills," the Tocumwal farmer says.

"I've certainly had people ringing me telling me they can't afford to pay them."

Mr Badcock said he was aware of a lot of depression among growers.

"I went to a field day the other day and I saw a couple of farmers break down in front of me.

"They've had to close their doors and put off their staff.

"There is a big challenge for Australia - it comes back to food security again - how do we help these people start again?"

Malcolm Holm, a dairy farmer in Finley, NSW, says the effects of zero allocations may not be fully felt for a couple of months.

"Probably for us, late August, September is going to be more the crunch time," Mr Holm says

Before then, he'll be relying on rainfall to ensure feed for his 700 cattle.

"It's pretty bleak, I guess. We're running very low on fodder.

"We've got probably two weeks of silage left and we haven't got a lot of hay left."

He said community morale had lifted when 75mm of rain fell in recent weeks but more was needed.

"We haven't had the follow-up rain and they're getting nervous again."



^^ Not good! What do you think the price will be per kg soon?
 
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