Questions raised over Water For Fodder program

By Geoff Adams

The Water for Fodder program was so popular it was over-subscribed, but one unsuccessful applicant has a few questions for the Federal Government.

The program offered 50 Ml parcels of water at the subsidised price of $100/Ml, in a deal negotiated between the Federal Government and the South Australian Government in an attempt to generate fodder supplies during the drought. About 800 farmers used the program to grow thousands of tonnes of fodder, but the next stage has been put on hold.

Bamawm farmer Ann Gardiner applied for the program but was unsuccessful and she wonders if the program was skewed towards smaller operations.

She and her husband and son milk about 800 cows on their 350 ha farm. In anticipation of a dry season they purchased water on the market which left them with just over 1000 Ml. This meant they were unable to qualify for the program, so Mrs Gardiner believes the program was biased against more prudent irrigators.

A survey which was run to test the effectiveness of the program reported overwhelming support.

Mrs Gardiner found the survey asked too many closed questions and the multiple choices made presumptions which participants were locked into.

“It was all done in haste and there needs to be lessons learned before they do it again. It also needs to be more transparent,” she said.

Mrs Gardiner said while the scheme appeared weighted against bigger businesses, smaller hobby farms were able to participate.

“Also some farm businesses got two or more parcels of water so the program wasn't equitable when many farmers got none. And there is no check that the water went onto fodder crops or pastures.”

The program came about as a result of an agreement for the Federal Government to pay South Australia to operate its desalination plant in Adelaide in return for giving up some Murray River water allocation.

The Water for Fodder program was suspended after the review found that while the water supply situation for South Australia will develop over the water year, it will not be until after winter and some spring inflows that actual water availability for the 2020-21 water year will be more clearly known.

Recently, the South Australian Government announced its Murray River irrigators would get 100 per cent of their allocation.

Country News asked Federal Water Minister Keith Pitt if this meant that the program could now resume.

“The Australian and South Australian governments are considering current conditions and will make a determination in the near future,” Mr Pitt said.

“Under the agreement, the South Australian Government receives funding once milestones are completed.”

Asked if the payments for the desalination plant had already been made, Mr Pitt said the Commonwealth Government would pay for the actual cost of water produced and South Australia’s Essential Services Commission would independently verify that cost.

“In addition, South Australia has received $4 million from the sale of the 50 Ml water allocations to successful applicants under the program.”