Fix fodder program, say irrigators

By Geoff Adams

Participants in the Federal Government's Water for Fodder program have argued for a more streamlined process if the project to supply subsidised irrigation water during drought is continued.

Farmers were able to apply for a 50 Ml parcel of water at a cost of $100/Ml, far lower than the prevailing market cost.

The project was designed to encourage farmers to grow fodder which would supplement available stocks during drought.

About 4000 applications were made and only 800 farmers were awarded the water through a random ballot.

A review conducted by the Federal Agriculture Department found there was strong feedback that the application process needed to be streamlined ahead of round two.

“This included suggestions to provide a list of all evidence required on the department’s website, and ask fewer questions about the status of the account holder in the first instance,” the review found.

“Feedback indicated that the guidelines were not user-friendly and were overly legalistic.

“The guidelines were also seen to be geared unfairly to protect the department.

“In some instances, this led to applicants not understanding the ballot process, and in one case resulted in a formal complaint which was managed under the program’s complaint handling framework.”

The review also found that processing the stage two applications and subsequent trades happened too slowly, meaning that applicants did not receive their water in a timely manner, which in turn reduced the efficacy of using the water.

“However, in many cases, application processing times were out of the department’s control,” the review said.

“Where the department required applicants to correct errors in their application, or provide further information, and the applicant did not respond in a timely manner, the total processing time increased significantly.”

The survey found that 68 per cent of respondents supported the program.

Opinions were divided on the water allocation size provided under the program with some believing it should be increased from 50 Ml to support irrigators to allow larger yields, while others stated allocation size should be decreased to 25 Ml to support a larger number of applicants.

Forty-four per cent of respondents agreed that 50 Ml allocations were an appropriate size while 42 per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed.

Respondents held many views on the application process.

More than half (51 per cent) said the random ballot was their preferred method of choosing successful applicants.

Fifty-six per cent supported prioritising unsuccessful applicants from round one in round two and the majority (59 per cent) of respondents supported limiting the number of applications to one per applicant.

Several respondents also suggested simplifying and streamlining the application documents and process for round two.

While written submissions indicated that frustration with the application process was often compounded by applicants having poor IT skills and low IT connectivity, there were 416 applicants who reported not accessing any assistance to complete their application.