The VFF is calling for the Federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources to stop acquiring farmers’ water to meet the 450 Gl of up-water that is additional to the basin plan, after more on-farm projects are being considered.
The two projects, which are now closed to public comment, are in South Australia — one project proposes to install netting structures over 33 ha of citrus and claim 5 Ml/ha of water savings, while the other project is hoping to convert a field nursery into a vineyard.
“The VFF successfully lobbied for a strengthened socio-economic test to assess projects under the 450 Gl back in December 2018,” VFF Water Council chair Richard Anderson said.
“Politicians committed to firstly pursuing off-farm water saving projects.
“It seems the federal department is determined to ignore the criteria and advice from politicians at the time.”
Since September 2019, six projects have been released for public comment under the new criteria and all have been water savings generated on farms.
“This was not the intent of ministers in 2018 — it's crazy to be pursuing the 450 Gl when we don’t even know if the water can be delivered to South Australia,” Mr Anderson said.
“Basin states are currently working on reports looking into deliverability.
“The federal department should be waiting on this information before targeting water that simply cannot get down the Murray River.”
In total, the six on-farm projects, released since September, will result in 480.3 Ml less water available to agriculture if approved.
Tallygaroopna dairy farmer Natalie Akers explained the impact that would have on farmers to do their job.
“On-farm projects that require farmers to give up water means there is less in the total pool available to agriculture,” she said.
“Less water means higher temporary water prices and higher running costs for the region as there is less water to spread the costs across.
“The federal bureaucrats are not listening and the 450 Gl is still rolling along.
“The 450 Gl is a live and real issue and collectively we must stop it.”
State Member for Shepparton Suzanna Sheed said attempting to save water through on-farm projects was "like trying to squeeze blood from a stone".
“It's clear from the very beginning that we have been opposed to delivering of the 450 Gl,” she said.
“It's extraordinary to see the intentions of government are to continue to extract water from farmers like this, that’s likely to deliver so little, shows little regard for farming communities generally.
“Even the many reports, including the Productivity Commission report, have called for changes, yet we have seen the government sitting on reports and ignoring the needs of irrigation communities.”
In response, Federal Water Minister Keith Pitt said the changes to the socio-economic criteria, back in 2018, did not mean on-farm projects were excluded.
“The Water Efficiency Program is a voluntary program for irrigators seeking to modernise their farms, and on-farm projects are not prevented from being funded by the socio-economic criteria,” he said.
“The Ministerial Council agreed to put socio-economic criteria in place and those are now in effect.
“States need to consider if a project has acceptable socio-economic outcomes before it is put to the Australian Government for funding consideration,” he said.
“While six projects have been put forward for public comment, only two of these on-farm projects have been approved for implementation through their delivery partner.”