Alarm over further on-farm projects

The VFF has again raised concerns about further on-farm efficiency projects

UPDATED
Water
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More on-farm water saving projects released for consultation.

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The Victorian Farmers Federation has again called on the federal Water Minister to keep his word and stop further on-farm water acquisition, to meet the Murray-Darling Basin 450-gigalitre environmental water target.

Efficiency projects have been proposed to contribute to the further 450GL water savings, as long as they demonstrate positive, or neutral, outcomes, based on detailed socio-economic criteria.

The programs aim to return the water to the environment by changing water use practices, such as lining irrigation channels, reducing leaks in Basin cities and installing meters.

But VFF Water council chair Richard Anderson said he was disappointed the commonwealth Department of Agriculture and Water has released further on-farm water saving projects, despite federal Water Minister Keith Pitt's promise not to do so.

"Minister Pitt announced in September 2020 the commonwealth was going to 'pivot' its water recovery efforts to off-farm, but his department continues to ignore his views," Mr Anderson said.

"Farming communities expect the minister and his department to follow through on the commitments he makes, not say one thing and do the opposite.

"We all understood in 2018 when the criteria was strengthened, it would rule out on-farm projects, but this continues to be ignored by the department."

The department recently released five South Australian on farm projects on its "Have Your Say" website that propose to recover a combined 126 megalitres for the environment.

The proposed projects seek to upgrade drip irrigation, new pumps and install netting. They are in addition to six South Australian projects, released in November last year.

"These projects will result in there being 126ML less water in the consumptive pool that is available for agriculture," Mr Anderson said.

"The minister might think a few projects will be okay and have no impact, but it's the cumulative impact the VFF is worried about, and the regional impacts of less water for agriculture."

Since September 2019, 18 projects have been released for public comment for the 450GL water recovery, 17 have come from South Australia and one from Queensland.

"Victoria and New South Wales have accepted that on-farm projects are not a good water recovery option as they result in less water for farmers and drive up water prices. It's high time the South Australian Government acknowledge these problems too," Mr Anderson said.

Mr Anderson said the program lacked transparency, with the department website only listing two of the 18 projects as approved and receiving funding.

There are no details on the status of the remaining 16 projects.

"There is a total lack of transparency. We have proposals dating back to April last year that we do not know the outcome or status of," he said.

"It is just a common courtesy to advise people who go to the trouble of making a submission of the outcome.

"The VFF will prepare submissions, opposing each proposed project."

The VFF had also written to the minister, seeking a commitment that he would uphold his promise not to pursue on-farm projects.

But Mr Pitt rejected the claims.

"It is highly disappointing the VFF is seeking to make claims that are clearly false," Mr Pitt said.

"I gave a commitment last September that there will be no more water buybacks and the focus will shift to improving off-farm efficiencies through our Communities Investment Package."

He said he was honoring that commitment and the government had not accepted any new on farm efficiency proposals after the package was announced.

"Prior to the announcement, a number of proposals had already been submitted by stakeholders and were well advanced through the assessment process," he said.

"It is appropriate that those proposals continue through the assessment process.

"I urge the VFF to join with other stakeholders from across the Murray-Darling Basin to work with the government to achieve the improved outcomes we all want for communities and irrigators."

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