Food bowl on brink of $5bn catastrophe

THE nation’s key food bowl, the Murray Darling Basin, is on the verge of economic collapse as the value of production plunges by at least $5 billion, experts say.

Drought and declining irrigation water have plunged inland Australia’s heartland into crisis with the loss of at least one third of the basin’s $15 billion annual income. Worse is predicted for the coming financial year if the drought continues.

The demise of the economic powerhouse has pushed towns throughout the basin, particularly along the River Murray, into a severe downturn and population decline.

An ABS report last week showed the population throughout the basin is declining, or static at best, with the District Council of Berri and Barmera suffering the largest and fastest recent drop in SA with 130 people moving out between 2007 and 2008.

Authorities warn the problem has become the biggest crisis Australian agriculture has experienced, threatening the nation’s food supply.

Murray Darling Association general manager Ray Najar said the basin’s plight will worsen substantially next financial year if the long-running drought continues and there is no water available for irrigation.

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