The Hunter is in drought and the Hunter River is too salty to irrigate

TOUGH TIMES: Brothers Alex and Tom Woods need low salt levels in the Hunter River to be able to irrigate. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers.
TOUGH TIMES: Brothers Alex and Tom Woods need low salt levels in the Hunter River to be able to irrigate. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers.

Brothers Tom and Alex Woods are crying out for water.

Ten thousand cabbage seedlings arrived at their Pitnacree farm on Thursday and they are bound in the long run for Flemington markets.

Another 10,000 will arrive each fortnight for the next 10 weeks. 

It’s a $15,000 investment, and they have a big problem. 

Like so many farmers throughout the Hunter they can’t give the plants the water they so desperately need.

Salinity levels in the Hunter, Paterson and Williams rivers are too high.

In the Hunter River they range from 900 to 25,000EC (electrical conductivity, which is the way salinity is measured).

If potatoes are irrigated at high salinity –  at or above 1200EC  -the salt in the water will turn the potato tops yellow and drop the harvest by 50 per cent. 

Cabbages and cauliflower cannot cope with salinity over 1200EC and even at that level they don’t do well. 

The salinity level should not rise above 400EC.

DRY TIMES: Alex and Tom Woods need water with low salinity levels to help their crops thrive. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers.

DRY TIMES: Alex and Tom Woods need water with low salinity levels to help their crops thrive. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers.

Lucerne crops cope a little better with the salinity, but even they get to the stage when the plants turn yellow and stop growing. 

You won’t do any good watering crops with high salinity, they don’t do well on it and it will turn your ground hard. You rely on having water, and quality water, to produce an income – and we pay for that through a licence - but right now we aren’t getting it.If water is affecting your quality and you’ve done everything else the same you could be losing thousands and thousands of dollars by the time you get the crop to market,

Farmer Tom Woods, 21

The brothers were forced to take a gamble on Thursday. 

CABBAGE FEVER: Tom and Alex Woods with 10,000 of the cabbage seedlings. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers.

CABBAGE FEVER: Tom and Alex Woods with 10,000 of the cabbage seedlings. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers.

They irrigated the cabbages using water from the Hunter River when the salinity level was 900EC. 

“If we didn’t give them some water they would have been dead by Thursday night. If we can’t irrigate, and we don’t get rain, we won’t get a good strike rate on them,” Tom said. 

The 50 acre property near the Harry Boyle Bridge was coping until three weeks ago when salinity levels started creeping up as water in the Hunter River dropped.

“It’s getting quite bad now. We’ve planted our winter spuds and that was a $5000 investment … When it’s your sole income it’s a worry,” Tom said. 

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