Brolga - Barmah State Park, Murray River, Victoria

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Subject: Brolga - Barmah State Park, Murray River, Victoria
From: Keith Stockwell <>
Date: Fri, 2 Mar 2007 17:25:16 +1100
Bill asks a very valid question.

>Given the weather conditions, what I want to know is not what the
>brolgas were doing there, but what RICE was doing there?
I hope I am not seen as an apologist for the rice industry, but to be fair...

This summer, there was just one paddock of rice on a huge property north of
Bunnaloo. It is/was one of few (possibly the only) rice crops in the entire
region. The family who own the farm have used most of their available water
on just one of many paddocks. The Echuca rice mill has permanently closed
and the building is up for sale. The Deniliquin mill is, I think, closed,
possibly temporarily with the loss of many jobs.

Ecologist Matt Herring is passionate about Brolgas and wetlands.

Working for Murray Irrigation, he has persuaded lots of local farmers to
modify their dams/wetlands/rice fields so that at least one corner is
shallow (around 30cm) with reeds and mud flats suitable for brolgas.

Flooding of this part of the dam should be ephemeral (just 2 to 6 months a
year) so that wetland plants like Eleocharis (spike rush) form temporary
stands and set seed whilst species associated with permanent water like
Thypa (cumbungi) don't establish and dominate. Crash grazing around dams is
preferable to continuous grazing.

Sites ideal for Brolgas also suit Bitterns, Painted Snipe and other waterbirds.

So many irrigators wished to be involved in the programme that Matt had to
conduct a ballot, limiting the number of irrigators he could advise to a
few hundred.

Community engagement in our area involved 50 seminars and field days which
were attended by over 1,500 people. Well done Matt!

At the recent Leeton wetlands forum and bird fair, Iain Taylor of Charles
Sturt University spoke on 14 bird species which feed in local rice fields
and how conditions could be enhanced for these birds, e.g. aerial sowing
and lowering the water levels of flooded fields. New rice varieties may
demand much less water.

Rice is a crop that can be grown in times when there is lots of water
available. It is not a crop that has to be grown, kept and watered in
drought years as an orchard, an almond farm or a vineyard must be.

Over recent years, some local wetlands on private property have been
rejuvenated and environmental water has been provided. Over the past six
months, very little environmental water has been made available, some of it
having been lent to irrigators who will pay it back in due course. The
flooding of Barmah-Millewa in 2005-06 used a lot of water paid back by

Keith Stockwell


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