Water

Mixed views on potential success of 100Gl roll-out

By Rodney Woods

Some of the region's farmers are set to get some relief from dry conditions and high input costs with the Federal Government announcing 100Gl of water will be released to grow feed.

However, those growing rice, cotton or fruit will be excluded from using the water that is part of a new drought stimulus package announced on Thursday last week.

Kaarimba irrigator Dudley Bryant said the minimum 25Ml allocation for each farmer would give him a head start if no rain fell or allocation was provided.

“The biggest thing is government has done something,” he said.

“It's a recognition there is a problem but we are long way from fixing it.

“It’s a good step. In our case 25Ml will start up 25 hectares of annual pasture.”

Jerilderie rice, barley and oats grower Peter Burke questioned how successful the allocation would be.

“Divvying up that amount of water amongst 6000 irrigators is like giving someone one piece of chicken for tea when they need three,” he said.

“I haven’t seen any of these options that offer any long-term security for anyone.”

Mr Burke said he isn’t normally a negative person but he wondered who was actually advising these politicians.

“In the millennium drought, under the Howard government, we could access interest-free subsidies capped at $100,000,” he said.

“That wasn’t a complicated procedure and provided a real option.”

National Irrigators’ Council chairman Gavin McMahon welcomed the news but said he was disappointed the horticulture industry was not allowed to access the water.

“While the measure ... will provide some relief for dairy farmers and graziers growing fodder, silage and pasture for livestock, it is disappointing that the equally valuable horticulture sector will miss out as part of this measure,” he said.

“The horticulture sector has had to face devastatingly high prices for water and we must acknowledge the contribution made by the sector in food production, with basin irrigators in 2017-18 growing more than 70 per cent of all Australia’s grapes, 41 per cent of fruit and nuts and 20 per cent of our vegetables.”

Speak Up chair Shelley Scoullar questioned the practicality of the roll-out.

“It is great to see that state and federal governments can work together to provide solutions to the water crisis, a good step forward,” she said.

“Unfortunately the practicality in the roll-out of the 100Gl will not provide the best results.

“Twenty five megalitres per farm is not a lot and is not an efficient use of water.

“It would have been much better for the water to be distributed as an allocation, with an intra-valley pool established so that those who were not in a position to grow a summer crop could trade to those who were, especially dairy farmers.”

The Australian Dairy Industry Council has also welcomed the announcement.

In April, ADIC called on the Federal Government to use Australia’s six functional desalination plants in a move that would “deliver a permanent water supply for farmers, regional communities and environment”.

“It is fantastic to see the government listening to the needs of dairy farmers who are suffering from the impacts of drought and offering real solutions to the problems we face in securing water,” ADIC chair Terry Richardson said.

“We hope that the government can further help drought-affected communities by working with the Victorian Government to connect the desalination plant in Gippsland, so that more water can be allocated for agricultural use.”