The Victorian Farmers Federation is urging the Federal Government not to sell Victorian irrigators down the river at the Murray Darling Basin Ministerial Council meeting on Friday June 8.
Last month’s deal between the Federal Government and Opposition resulted in 605 gigalitres (GL) of environmental projects being passed through parliament. However, the deal also ties funding for the 605 GL to the delivery of 450 GL of upwater, thereby increasing the Basin Plan environmental targets from 2,750 GL to 3,200 GL.
“While we were pleased to see the environmental projects pass, the 450 gigalitres has us worried about what this means for irrigators in Mallee and Goulburn Murray districts,” said Richard Anderson, Chair of Victorian Farmers Federation Water Council.
A report released by RMCG this week showed that delivery of 450 GL would cause dairy production to decrease by 235 million litres of milk, resulting in losses of $100 million at the dairy farm gate and $200 million in dairy factory production. Water prices are projected to rise $30 per megalitre and a further 500 jobs would be lost in the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District if the 450 GL were recovered.
This deal will have ramifications beyond the dairy industry. In extreme drought, horticultural production across Victoria, NSW and SA will be more exposed. Demand will likely to outstrip supply if water availability drops below 40% of entitlement. Further water recovery could affect 20,000 hectares of horticultural production in Victoria with devastating effects on local communities.
In the Basin Plan, delivery of the 450 GL has been conditional on a neutral or positive socio-economic outcome. However, the ‘neutrality test’ drawn up in the Basin Plan is only measured at an individual level rather than a local community level.
“We need Ministers in the meeting on Friday to amend the socio-economic test to ensure jobs in irrigation and agricultural communities are protected, to save our local communities from more hardship. Victoria is on a knife’s edge and the delivery of the 450 GL without firmer criteria puts the region and local jobs at risk.
“It is rumoured the Federal Minister will announce an expression of interest for on-farm efficiency projects. On-farm projects are flawed because they take water out of production. Farmers are forced to give up water to the Commonwealth in exchange for funding for some on-farm upgrades. Often the farmers go back into the market to replace the water they transferred to the Commonwealth. We cannot afford to lose more water in this way.
“The uptake of on-farm projects has been declining over the last five years as farmers are reluctant to give up water. The Victorian Water Minister is currently reviewing the on-farm program,” said Mr Anderson.
With additional water still to be found, the Victorian Farmers Federation believes the Commonwealth should first find 2,750 GL before it proceeds with any of the 450 GL of upwater.
Friday June 8 will be a critical day for Victoria. The Commonwealth needs to understand what the 450 GL means for Victoria’s regions and set some criteria around the impacts of removing any more water from Victoria’s food bowl.
Richard Anderson, Chair of the VFF Water Council, 0428 832 210
Heather Smillie, Stakeholder Policy & Advocacy Officer, 0400 874 589