Soaring water prices hit farmers

By Alana Christensen

Farmers are feeling the squeeze as dry conditions persist across the region, with water prices climbing above $500/Ml and NSW Murray farmers still on zero allocation.

Water broker Waterpool Co-op said prices peaked at $530/Ml about two weeks ago, before easing slightly to $510-$520/Ml.

It is a sharp incline from the highs of $420/Ml registered on January 18, with prices also having increased by more than $250/Ml on average in just six months.

Waterpool chief executive officer Peter Lawford said dry conditions continued to drive prices.

‘‘There’s been fairly constant supply, it’s just seasonal conditions,’’ Mr Lawford said.

‘‘It’s been boosted by grain and hay prices, which have been fairly dear, on top of weather and the conditions.’’

With buyers and sellers coming from across industries, Mr Lawford said there were plenty of people looking to purchase on the market, despite the prices.

‘‘The dairy guys, who might be trying to finish up summer crops, have bought-up fairly expensive water just to get themselves over the line.’’

The Bureau of Meteorology season outlook indicates below average rainfall is more likely during the January to March period, with most of the northern Victorian systems between the ‘average’ and the ‘dry’ category in December.

Across the border, NSW Murray farmers are continuing to plead for a water allocation as the region enters its fifth month with zero per cent general security allocation.

An update on Friday saw allocations remain at zero per cent.

Speak Up campaign deputy chair Lachlan Marshall said the lack of water was taking a huge toll on local farmers.

He is one of many shelling out a ‘‘small fortune’’ to purchase water as prices continue to climb well above $500/Ml.

Milking 900 cows three times a day on his Blighty farm, Mr Marshall said his family had been forced to spend more than $400000 a month to feed his herd.

‘‘We have to get something, regardless of how small,’’ he said.

‘‘In my family’s situation we have a dairy farm and it’s costing a small fortune to buy water so we can grow forage crops for the cows.

‘‘Those with rice crops are being forced to buy water at more than $500/Ml or let the crops die.

‘‘We don’t have a choice.’’

The Marshalls, who produce about 12million litres of milk a year and employ 20 people, have been farming for decades, but Mr Marshall said this year had been hard to watch.

‘‘At a time when our water allocation remains on zero, we’ve watched unnatural flooding of forests because of water mismanagement,’’ he said.

‘‘Quite simply, the authorities bungled the amount they could push down the Murray River to South Australia.

‘‘Much of the water that did make it to the end of the system (in South Australia) — we lost billions of litres along the way — wasn’t used to benefit the environment. That hurts.

‘‘I’m not sure what the future holds for our farming communities. I originally had faith that our politicians would see the lunacy and fix it. Now I’m not too sure.’’