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Farmers concerned that agriculture could chan -

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TONY JONES: Unless significant rain falls in the next few weeks, farmers are warning of an
agricultural disaster. Good falls earlier this year raised hopes the big dry was coming to an end.
But those hopes are evaporating. Already water allocations in the vital Murray-Darling Basin have
been slashed and dry land grain growers need rain to keep crops such as wheat and canola alive.
Beyond that, though, the long drought is raising questions about what farming will be like in the
future. Helen Brown reports.

HELEN BROWN: Scenes like this could be signalling that the nation's farmers face more than an
immediate crisis. This was supposed to be the year that saved many farms businesses after several
years of drought. But it isn't looking good. And now many are wondering if agriculture is on the
edge of a fundamental shift.

ROSS LAKE, GRAPE GROWER: What we're looking at is the end of permanent irrigated horticulture in
the Murray valley. That's serious.

HELEN BROWN: In Victoria's Sunraysia region, grape growers are letting rows and rows of vine die.
The rains haven't come and the tap that is the Murray Darling Basin has literally been turned off.
The horticulture industry says like most others, it's stumbling in the dark as it tries to find
ways to cope with a new reality.

KRIS NEWTON, AUSTRALIAN HORTICULTURAL COUNCIL: The general view at the moment appears to be that
this isn't just a drought anymore. We're looking at the long dry, and there may be brief periods of
rain and relief in that, but essentially this is how it's going to be for some foreseeable time to
come.

HELEN BROWN: Grain growers have just a couple of weeks left if rain is to save winter crops. Some
have already turned sheep onto paddocks that were supposed to make some money at harvest time.

KEITH FAIR, WHEAT GROWER: We're lucky if you can see it, absolute disaster. You know, there's only
one way to describe it - it's the worst disaster I've seen in 43 years of farming.

HELEN BROWN: The Victorian grape growers are so desperate they've asked the State Government to
step in and tank water used in other regions for annual crops such as pasture to keep some of the
permanent plantings going.

ROSS LAKE, GRAPE GROWER: Hopefully we can get them through on the allocation we've got so far to
the end of October. After that, we could be out here with the chain saws.

HELEN BROWN: The nation's peak farmer group says this kind of weather is severe, but rare. It says,
though, it's preparing for the fact that farmers will have to be better prepared for similar
climatic events.

BEN FARGHER, NATIONAL FARMERS FEDERATION: Going forward, we do need to better manage climate
variability. As I say, farmers have been up to that challenge. We're looking in an election context
for a new partnership with farmers to even go further towards trying to drought proof this nation.

HELEN BROWN: The priority for agricultural groups is to get farms through to when the rains will
hopefully arrive. The Federal Government's giving another $430 million to drought-affected farmers
to see them through until next September.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: It's precisely when you have a severe drought that the nation should
come to the assistance of farmers. We have a strong financial position. We can afford to do these
things.

WAYNE SWAN, SHADOW TREASURER: I welcome the commitment from the Prime Minister to give additional
assistance if it's required. We would support that 100 per cent.

HELEN BROWN: Farmers are warning that food prices are likely to rise further and economic growth
will be hurt by the ongoing drought. Helen Brown, Lateline.