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Drought catastrophe stalks Australia's food bowl

Drought catastrophe stalks Australia's food bowl - "It's on a knife edge and if it doesn't rain in the next couple of weeks it's going to be very ugly. People will be walking off the land, going broke." Australia's Murray-Darling river basin is a vast plain bigger than France and Germany, home to 2 million people and in good times the source of almost half the nation's fruit and cereal crop. But years of drought, which some blame on global warming, have savagely depleted the huge dams built 60 years ago to hold the snow melt from the Australian alps and push it hundreds of kilometres inland to the parched west for farm irrigation. The Murray-Darling normally provides 90 percent of Australia's irrigated crops and $18.1 billion worth of agricultural exports to Asia and the Middle East. But with some crops now just 10 days from failure, farmers are to receive no water at all for irrigation through the summer, while others will get a fraction of their regular entitlement to keep alive vital plantings like citrus trees and grapevines. Thousands of oranges lie rotting under rows of trees stretching to the horizon under relentless blue skies. The drought and a new sense of the importance of water in the driest inhabited continent, with prices having gone from A$30 a megalitre to hover near A$800, will change Australian farming forever and make some irrigation unviable. "It's going to be a massive change...I spent the first half of my life developing irrigation and I'll spend the second half pulling it down...We are now in something that is beyond probabilities."
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