Opinion

End of Water for Fodder program ‘disappointing’

By Country News

The announcement that Round 2 of the Federal Government’s Water For Fodder program will not proceed is disappointing.

The program was a response to ongoing drought and made 100 Gl of water available for farmers to buy at a reduced rate so they could grow fodder.

It was made available by turning on the South Australian desalination plant, with the Federal Government agreeing to pay SA $1000/Ml.

We accept that Round 1 of the program was far from perfect and lacked practicality.

Water wasn’t available until autumn this year when most needed it last spring; only 40 per cent was made available in Round 1; and the program was offered to all irrigators, including those already on 100 per cent allocation, whereas it should have been reserved for those who were most in need.

However, that doesn’t excuse the fact that cancelling the program lacks common sense.

The department stated in its announcement to cancel the program that through round 1 ``The program also supported broader communities across the southern basin, with more than $11 million estimated to be spent on supplies to grow and harvest fodder crops.”

With the current economic downturn due to COVID-19, would it not make more sense for the program to continue driving economic recovery?

Water Minister Keith Pitt’s department cites temporary water price reductions and good river inflows as indicators for cancelling the program.

May we remind the department that NSW Murray food producers are only on 12 per cent allocation, and with Menindee Lakes at only 26 per cent capacity the Murray River will again be running at capacity to meet the demands of SA.

As such, our NSW Murray food producers will continue to carry the load with the Darling still unable to meet its share of contributions to SA flows.

The Federal Government spent nearly $400 million helping SA build its desalination plant, on the condition the state reduced its reliance on the Murray River for Adelaide’s domestic water supplies.

It can and should produce 100 Gl a year to reduce the pressure on the Murray River.

In 2013 the SA Government stated: “The desalination plant allows us to take less water from the Murray … and we are investigating further reductions in SA Water’s allowable take from the river.”

It looks like either the Federal Government has colluded with SA and taken us for a ride again, or SA has again pulled the wool over the Federal Government’s eyes.

Shelley Scoullar

Speak Up Campaign chair