As the big dry continues, farmers in many agricultural districts around Australia are concerned about the coming season and looming water security issues.
The opening water allocation for South Australian irrigators was announced earlier this month at just 14%. While it is possible that the allocation will be revised to 21% by the 1stJuly, this would still be the lowest opening allocation since 2009.
“The minimum allocation projection I have received from my Department reflects the extremely dry conditions that are being experienced across the Murray-Darling Basin this year”, said Minister for Environment and Water, David Speirs.
“This minimum allocation presents what is expected to be a ‘worst-case’ scenario for food producers − allowing them to plan for the worst while we all continue to hope for significant improvements.”
While the opening allocation seems dismal, it is possible that the allocation will be increased as water flows into the basin system between July and November. The Department for Environment and Water have indicated that there is a 60% likelihood of allocating increasing to 100% throughout the year, and a 90% chance of allocations increasing to 75%.
The allocation announcement has caused a spike in the price of water allocations with temporary water heading upwards of $600 / megalitre, which was valued at just $160 / megalitre in May 2018.
Water Price Rise to Hit WA Farmers
Meanwhile, in Western Australia many growers are concerned about future water security in the wake of a rate restructure by state-owned Water Corporation. The restructure will remove concessional pricing for regional users, creating a price spike of more than 200%.
In the Shire of Katanning, it is expected that water will go from $2.50 / kilolitre to $8.30 / kilolitre (50 and 80mm standpipes) with an annual fee increase from $260 to $1650 (50mm standpipes) and $4250 (80mm standpipes).
One local farmer has bypassed Water Corp pricing by shelling out $200,000 for his own on-farm desalinisation plant. Tony Richardson from Katanning needs 60,000 litres of water a day to run his piggery, and was spending up to $80,000 a year on potable water before the desalinisation plant went live.
“It’s hard enough living on the land … but having to pay that amount for water, well, I wouldn’t be farming,” he said.
Some Relief in Queensland
While most areas in Australia are facing a hotter and drier than average year, there has been some relief in southern Queensland.
Floodwaters from ex-Tropical Cyclone Trevor are filtering down through the river systems, filling up creeks and dams and providing land owners with some much needed relief from the dry.
For some, floodwaters were accompanied by rain over Easter including Marianne McCarthy from Bulloo Downs near Thargomindah.
“With the floodwater, we’ve been swimming most afternoons where it tipped out in a little channel and it’s nice and still,” she said.
“At Easter we had 50 millimetres and spent pretty much the whole weekend running around in the mud puddles.”