The federal government has been inundated with applications for their Water for Fodder initiative, the program oversubscribed to within 24 hours of it opening on Wednesday morning.
Federal Water Resources Minister David Littleproud said there were thousands of applications received for the 800 individual lots of water available.
His department has since confirmed nearly 4000 applications have been received.
"The strong interest shows the severe impact the drought is having on the entire nation and the value of this initiative to farmers in the southern basin to produce fodder for farmers around the country and at home," Mr Littleproud said.
The Water for Fodder program is the result of a $98 million deal the federal government made with the South Australian government to supply 100 gigalitres of cheap water for southern Murray Darling Basin irrigators to grow pastures and fodder for livestock.
In return the federal government committed to revive Adelaide's desalination plant.
Read more: Water for Fodder scheme rolls out
Farmers were able to apply for up to two 50 megalitre parcels of water for $100/ML, a price heavily discounted with water currently selling on the NSW Murray Above Choke for around $633/ML.
The 100GL total has been split across two water years, 40GL to be delivered by April 2020 and the remaining 60GL to be delivered after July 2020, following an evaluation of the program.
Mr Littleproud said as so many applications were received the allocation of the first 40GL will be done through a ballot, run by an independent consultant.
Wyuna East dairy farmer Stuart Young said he had issues with the process, which had run for two days, instead of the promised one.
"It would be like winning Tattslotto," Mr Young said.
He had put in an application but hadn't received any email notification that it had been accepted.
"They changed the rules, they said it was going to be open for one day, and they left it open for two," he said.
"It hasn't been thought through very well, and it's not going to be giving people a lot of relief."
Murrabit dairy farmer Andrew Leahy said he also had reservations about the program, although he was pleased the government was doing something.
"The question I'd be asking is what type of people applied for it," Mr Leahy said.
"I know hobby farmers who have applied for it, and I know people who have traded their water out for the year have applied for it.
"How are they going to police it, that's the major question, are the right people going to be getting it?"
But he said he wasn't disappointed with the program, as it might set up a precedent for more water to be released from the environmental pool.
"At least they are doing something," he said.
Craig Steel, Woodlea, Finley, NSW, said he'd been told that 4000 farmers had applied for the 800 parcels of water being offered.
"It's government assistance for a minority, 3200 people miss out and get nothing," Mr Steel said on social media.
He said he had applied for the water.
"It might water a 20-hectare paddock once, or it might do two waterings," he said.
"If I get the water, I'll whack in some mixed species, a bit of oats, a bit of cereal rye and a bit of barley."
He said he wouldn't use the water until autumn, as it would be wasted over summer.
"You could water it once, and the crops would just die," he said.
"But it would give you a bit of feed in autumn to put before the sheep and set you up for winter."
Southern Riverina Irrigators chairman Chris Brooks said those who needed the water most would probably have been out in the paddock, instead of sitting on their computers waiting to apply for it.
"This is what we expected, we knew damned well it was too little, too late," Mr Brooks said.
He said it was unlikely the water would be delivered before Christmas and most farmers would not sow crops like oats until April for November harvest.
"I tell you what, the stock will be hungry by then," he said.
"It's a disaster, it's so typical of the disconnect between the people making these decisions and the people in the bush."
A Department of Agriculture representative said the ballot would be conducted as soon as possible and the successful applicants would then have 30 days to provide further information before the water is released.
The application guide for the program stated if it was over-subscribed, notification would be given and any other interested parties would have until 10am the following day to submit an application
Applications for the remaining 60GL will be open next year.
When the program was first announced federal government ministers suggested farmers would only be able to apply for one 25ML parcel of water, however, irrigators expressed concern that this would not be enough to make sowing a crop economically viable.
There were also questions raised on how the government would ensure the water was being used to grow fodder or pasture and not high-value crops.
The Department of Agriculture website now indicates that audits will be conducted to police the program, including on-farm visits.
They also confirmed the water cannot be used to produce fodder as a by product and the water must be used to grow fodder or pasture in the water year it is allocated.
Mr Littleproud said the program will provide up to 120,000 tonnes of fodder for drought-stricken livestock producers.
"Water for Fodder will help farmers feed livestock so they can recover quickly when the drought breaks," he said.
"It will help farmers keep their herds healthy so they're not forced to destock."
The story Thousands apply for government's Water for Fodder program first appeared on The Land.