Irrigator scepticism over desal deal

South Australian desalination decision raises questions

Irrigation
IRRIGATOR SCEPTICISM: Katunga's Paul Stammers is one of many irrigators, who have expressed doubts about the plan to use the South Australian desalination plant to free up water in Murray Darling Basin storages.

IRRIGATOR SCEPTICISM: Katunga's Paul Stammers is one of many irrigators, who have expressed doubts about the plan to use the South Australian desalination plant to free up water in Murray Darling Basin storages.

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Freeing up water from SA may be too little, too late: irrigators

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Irrigators in northern Victoria and southern NSW have reacted angrily to a federal government deal increase water production from South Australia's desalination plant.

The government has said the deal will free up 100 gigalitres of water in southern Murray Darling Basin storages, which can then be used to grow fodder crops.

"This is one step towards that, making sure that we think outside the square, bringing new water into the Basin to make sure that we use it wisely to ensure that all our breeding herd is protected," Federal Water Resources minister David Littleproud said.

"We will make sure that there are mechanisms in place that the allocations that are provided to where we believe are somewhere between 4,000 and 6,000 farmers will be subscribing to.

"It cannot be transferred - it must be used for fodder production."

Mr Littleproud said using Australian Bureau of Statistics data, the government estimated each irrigator would receive "a minimum amount of 25 megalitres.

"We think that that would be a feasible amount for someone to be able to use productively and produce enough fodder.

"While there is some good fodder coming into the southern part of the country at the moment, what we've got to understand is if it stays dry, we need to be thinking about six months in advance."

He said the arrangements were being finalised.

"So to make sure that smaller farmers can get access to this and particularly dairy farmers who need pasture, we expect that there'll be some take up before Christmas and they'll want to deliver some pasture for the summer," Mr Littleproud said.

"But there'll be a considerable amount they'll want to have preplanning for March, April and then obviously moving in."

The water will be offered to irrigators for $100 per megalitre and will be delivered by the end of April.

Mr Littleproud said he expected the water could produce up to 120,000 tonnes of feed.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government estimated the total cost would be about $98.4million.

"It's our expectation that we'd be able to, after the review, continue with the program with South Australia," Mr Morrison said.

"This enables us to put new water into the system without complicating any of the arrangements around the Murray Darling Basin Plan."

But irrigators say the release of the water is too little, too late, and the plan raises more questions than it answers.

One irrigator described it as a publicity stunt, while another said it was a "dumb" way of producing more fodder and pasture.

Katunga dairy farmer Paul Stammers said 25ML would be the equivalent to a 6.4-millimetre rain event, over his 160-hectare farm.

"25ML in March will irrigate 20 hectares," Mr Stammers said.

"A lot of lobby groups and organisations called for it in April and they ignored it, so they have lost a spring, because of that," Mr Stammers said.

"It's only happened because of pressure and it's a dumb way of increasing the fodder supply."

He said he didn't know whether giving each irrigator 25ML was the fairest way to allocate the water, suggesting it be based on a percentage, determined by land size.

"How are they going to regulate it?," Mr Stammers said.

"If you have sold water, will you receive it, if you haven't had water come out of a service point in the past five years, do you deserve to have it?

"I don't know how they are going to keep control of this - every government scheme would have a loophole, and people will exploit it."

The water delivery would occur too late to be of any real use.

"I don't know how they are going to roll it out and I don't think they know either.

"People are not going to hang onto their breeding stock until April next year, because of it."

South Australian hay, grain and livestock contractor James Stacey also had a strong response to the announcement.

"The Ad man just wanting some better PR on Alan Jones show, it's a dogs breakfast of an idea!," Mr Stacey said on social media.

Echuca west mixed farmer Glenn Murrells agreed it would have been good to have the scheme in place, in September and October, especially for NSW farmers.

He said if the north had a early autumn break, and was able to start the season, it would be good to finish off crops.

"We would use 1.5ML per hectare to start up, so it's not really much to worry about," Mr Murrells said.

"We can't make any money watering lucerne, it's just not worth it."

He also questioned how the authorities would police the scheme and the significant cost of producing water from the plant.

Mr Murrells also asked whether the offer would still be available, if it rained.

"Can we carry it over, or sell it?" he said.

Wakool, NSW, irrigator John Lolicato said it the proposal was a waste of time.

"This is just another stunt for the politicians who are trying to make people in the cities think they are doing something," Mr Lolicato said.

"Everybody out in the bush knows this is a waste of time."

By the time the water was released, it would be too late for most crops.

"A lot of the wheat and barley was 45 centimetres high," Mr Lolicato said.

"I'd done the work, prepared the ground, sown the crop, got it out of the ground, sprayed it for weeds, topped it up with urea and then it ran out of moisture," he said.

"If I had 25ML then I would have seen that as a helping hand and I would have gone to the market and bought another 25ML to keep the crop going."

He said irrigators had put a similar proposal to authorities three months ago, only to have it ignored.

Irrigators were also frustrated at watching the Murray River "running a banker, sending all this water down to SA."

And while Rochester dairy farmer Tom Acocks said it was a great idea, he was concerned there were few details around the proposal.

"I'm a dairy farmer in northern Victoria, does that mean I have to grow fodder for someone else, or can I grow it for myself?," Mr Acocks said.

"We have three weeks left before we decide to grow maize, or not, otherwise we've missed the chance to grow summer fodder.

"Unless there is some mechanism to access it, within the next 14 days, we have missed our chance to grow a summer crop."

"It's a great idea, I would gladly take the 25ML, because that's 25ML I don't have to go and buy - but where's the detail?"

He questioned how the allocation would be divided up over businesses, which had multiple entitities.

"Does each entity get 25ML?"

Southern Riverina Irrigators chairman Chris Brooks said claims SA was returning water "out of the goodness of its heart" were hard to wear.

"I don't want to sound ungrateful," Mr Brooks said.

"Let's be honest, it's a good change - the Liberal and National Parties at least want to be seen to be doing something for, and on behalf, of farmers," Mr Brooks said.

The proposed allocation of 15-25ML per farm would be enough for stock and domestic use.

"But as far as producing fodder, it's nothing," he said.

"The fact its been classified as a gift from SA is what we find offensive, when they get such a massive volume of water down there, that goes out to sea.

'Here we are giving them another $100million, that works out at $1000/ML, while the current market price for water is $600/ML."

Murrabit dairy farmer Andrew Leahy said he understood the government was trying to do something, but if the second allocation didn't come out until next financial year, it would be too late.

"At least there is a precedent, that could go a further later," Mr Leahy said.

"But 25ML per irrigator is nothing, and we haven't got the detail, no-one knows for sure, how it's going to happen.

"To help me do something this year, I would need 250ML, not 25ML."

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