Water woes in a two-tier discount regime

Water woes in a two-tier discount regime

The second step of the Queensland Government’s election promise to reduce water costs for farmers has been taken. What CANEGROWERS said during the 2020 campaign is still very valid – it is an unfair and discriminatory policy which poses difficulty on the many farms which grow more than one crop.

What is on offer from this month is a 35% rebate to farmers using irrigation water for horticultural production. It follows a 15% reduction that has already been applied to the scheduled water prices being charged from 1 July. 

CANEGROWERS welcomed the election commitment to reduce water costs as an acknowledgement from government that inputs for irrigated agriculture are too expensive but we also, at the time, questioned the two-tier approach.

Why a 15% reduction for broadacre crops including sugarcane and a total of 50% for horticulture? A discriminatory approach is like a tax on important export commodities like sugar and cotton.

Don’t get me wrong, we don’t want anything to be taken away from farmers growing fruit and vegetables. What should have happened is that the same level of rebate or discount be offered across all of irrigated agriculture.

The Queensland Government pointed out when it announced recently that the 35% rebate could be claimed that, “Irrigated agriculture - including fruit, vegetable, nut and turf operations – is one of Queensland’s most important industries, both in terms of employment and value to our economy.”

Isn’t all of agriculture important? Doesn’t all of agriculture stimulate the economy and provide employment?

Sugarcane farming in Queensland alone underpins a value chain worth around $4 billion of economic activity every year. One in every one hundred jobs in Queensland can be traced to and is courtesy of cane growing. The total sugar supply value chain supports over 10,000 businesses and around 25,000 employees.

More than 60% of Queensland’s sugarcane is irrigated but there are some irrigation schemes which are dramatically under-utilised because water is too expensive.

The price of water is what holds growers back from making the most of their water allocations and that means their farms may not be as productive as they could be. If the cost of water were reduced, the water will be used and the benefits, in economic activity and jobs will flow too. This is true no matter the crop being grown – broadacre or horticulture.

There are many, many growers within the sugarcane industry who grow other crops either alongside or in rotation with sugarcane. In fact, a survey of elected CANEGROWERS leaders showed 15% of them grow a horticultural crop as well as sugarcane.

For many, the same pump and irrigation equipment is used for both crops. If this is your situation, CANEGROWERS urges you to persevere with the paperwork and claim the extra 35% rebate for the water applied to your fruit and vegetable plantings.

You are entitled to it, and if it causes headaches in the way government works out how much you are owed, so be it. It is a silly situation of the government’s making.

CANEGROWERS in the meantime will continue to advocate for fairness in water pricing and a cost environment that encourages production, stimulates economic activity and secures regional jobs.