The Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) says water buybacks will further exacerbate future water shortages for permanent horticulture in the Murray-Darling Basin following the release of new data on water demand and availability.
VFF Water Council Chair Andrew Leahy said the independent report released by water market analysts Aither for the Victorian Government highlighted the crippling impact water buybacks would have on food security.
“Demand for water by permanent horticultural plantings is only set to increase. This will drive up prices and increase shortfall risks.”
“We know droughts drive up water prices, but with a Commonwealth Government wanting to shrink the total amount of water available to agriculture through buybacks, it means the impact on food production will be even greater”.
The report titled ‘Water supply and demand in the southern Murray-Darling Basin Update’ provides an assessment of water availability and demand for permanent horticulture across Northern Victoria, Southern New South Wales, and South Australia under wet to extreme dry scenarios. It estimates current water demand for existing permanent horticulture in the connected Murray at 1,128 GL per annum.
Based on age profiles of plantings currently in the ground, the report estimates demand will increase by 146 GL to 1,274 GL per annum as the plantings reach maturity.
“If horticultural developments less than 1,000 ha proceeded future water demand for plantings could increase to 1,449 GL per annum. That’s a 321 GL increase above the current demand,” Mr Leahy said.
“If potential horticultural developments greater than 1,000 ha proceeded, future water demand by permanent horticulture in the connected Murray could increase to 1,684 GL per annum, soaring to a 556 GL increase from current usage.”
“The 2007-08 drought saw just 993 GL of water available to all users in the entire Basin. A repeat of this event will see over a 500GL shortfall for permanent plantings alone, not to mention dairy, cropping and mixed farming that also rely on water.”
“This report reinforces what previous reports have shown – in the next drought, horticulturalists won’t have enough water to keep all their trees alive”.
“At this stage the Federal Government is proposing a 49GL buyback program, that means 49GL less water will be available to farmers. The evidence is clear that shrinking the amount of water available to agriculture is not the answer, buybacks kill communities.”
Mr Leahy encouraged irrigators to watch Aither’s webinar on 29 March 2023 to understand the report in more detail. Further information is available on the Agriculture Victoria website.