The State Opposition has urged the government to help Victoria’s drought-affected farmers with shire rates relief and rebates for fixed water charges.
Opposition agriculture spokesman Peter Walsh said as dry conditions continued to bite, Murray Dairy had estimated that a third of dairy farms in Northern Victoria would be forced to close.
“The perfect storm of drought and industry downturn has led to low milk prices, low rainfall and high water prices hitting at the same time,” Mr Walsh said.
“Over the past few months, dairy farmers have been faced with an impossible decision – sell off entire dairy herds or face the prospect of not being able to keep them fed and watered.”
He said rate relief and a reduction in water charges had proven effective in the past.
In 2008, then Labor Premier John Brumby offered $58 million in a water rebate scheme
The scheme paid the first $1000 of water bills for irrigators, stock and domestic users receiving less than 30 per cent of their entitlements.
Mr Brumby said it would mean most irrigators would have their fixed charges paid.
Mr Walsh said farmers wanted “common sense” support.
“Shire rate relief and water charge rebates have proved to be effective in the past. If the government truly wants to help struggling farmers, it’ll immediately implement this assistance,” Mr Walsh said.
“The Premier said he would be happy to sit down and talk ideas and while the Liberal Nationals will take up that offer, we do hope that these two practical measures can be implemented swiftly to bring immediate relief to farmers and our communities that are in dire need.”
But Victorian Farmers Federation water council chairman Richard Anderson urged caution.
“We didn’t have 100per cent allocation in the Murray system and 96pc in the Goulburn then - circumstances are a little bit different now.”
“Anything that helps irrigators is a good thing, but I’m not sure you are going to convince the government to do it, because of commodity prices.”
He said while dairy was “feeling the pinch”, horticulture was experiencing a good season.
“How can you do it for one commodity group and not the other?” he said.
“There is a precedent, but you’ve got to put it into perspective.”
He said it might be better to increase on-farm grants for water saving infrastructure from $5000 to $20,000.
“Maybe that’s a better approach.”
The government recently announced funding for an industry-led project, aimed at boosting jobs, training and skills for northern dairy farmers.
Agriculture Minister Jaclyn Symes announced a $35,000 grant to build local capacity and resilience, as well as create jobs.
“The changing face of agriculture makes it critical to give our farmers the skills, training and qualifications they need to stay at the forefront of our $13 billion industry,” Ms Symes said.
The ‘Defining future dairy industry service sector skills project’ has been driven by industry and was identified by the Goulburn Regional Partnership.
The project aimed to identify future state-wide dairy skill requirements, in line with the rapidly changing environment the industry operated within.
Murray Dairy had engaged a consultant to undertake a market analysis of Victoria’s dairy services sector and map current and future skills needs.
The final report would include a dairy industry skills development plan with identified pathways and stakeholders to implement the plan at a regional level.