Fixed water costs bite

By Rodney Woods

Victorian Shadow Water Minister Steph Ryan has called on the Victorian Government to pay irrigators’ fixed water costs.

Ms Ryan, who visited a Dhurringile dairy farm last week, said the Labor Government needed to act immediately or farmers would be forced out of the industry.

‘‘Water delivery costs make up a significant proportion of irrigators’ bills,’’ she said.

‘‘We have a lot of people who aren’t able to irrigate this season because of the high cost of water — but they are still being hit with these very big delivery share charges.

‘‘We think the Andrews Government needs to take urgent action to actually step in and meet the costs of those delivery shares this season to make sure dairy farmers can survive in what is increasingly tough times.’’

Dhurringile dairy farmer Rocky Niglia, who hosted Ms Ryan, said the pressures of fixed water prices rose in a season like the one farmers were battling now.

‘‘The water infrastructure fees has a massive impact on our bottom line and that’s because we are trying to minimise our losses,’’ he said.

‘‘The best way to minimise the losses is by cutting our overheads. With fixed charges like these, you can’t minimise your overheads.

‘‘It’s always been an issue, the high costs of them, but obviously when you’re having good seasons it’s not as much of an issue than it is when you have bad seasons.’’

The pinch farmers are feeling has had flow-on effects, with nearly 556 of Goulburn-Murray Water’s customers in debt for more than two years as of December 2018.

For customers who may experience financial hardship, G-MW has a number of ways it can help, including flexible payment plans, payment extensions, direct debit instalments and any relevant information about government concessions and accredited financial and health support.

‘‘Financial hardship situations are unique to each customer and we strongly encourage customers who are experiencing temporary or long-term difficulties to contact us,’’ G-MW chief financial officer Geoff Cutter said.

Victorian Water Minister Lisa Neville responded to Ms Ryan’s calls, saying the government already had assistance in place.

‘‘Our water corporations have a range of support and hardship programs in place including relief and payment plans,’’ she said.

‘‘I encourage anyone struggling with their water bills to contact their water organisation.

‘‘We are providing a range of support to farmers in the north including infrastructure upgrades, planning support to assist with business decisions and helping them prepare properties for increasing dry conditions in the future.’’

The Victorian Opposition’s call for relief comes after Murray Dairy recently estimated one third of dairy farmers would exit the industry as a result of the high cost of water, low milk prices and a lack of feed.