The Queensland Government recognised irrigation water was unaffordable in 2019-20 and froze prices. Last year they further acknowledged the importance of water for agriculture, making an election commitment to deliver a 15 per cent reduction in irrigation water charges for irrigators serviced by Queensland’s state-owned schemes, and an additional 35 per cent discount for horticulture growers, effective from 1 July 2021. Following advocacy by the Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) and its industry members, the state government extended the definition of horticulture beyond fruit and vegetables to include nuts, turf, flowers and nursery growers allowing more irrigators to access the larger discount.
However, many irrigators will not benefit from the proposed discounts as the 2019/20 price freeze comes to an end on 30 June 2020. While irrigators this year will be paying the 2020/21 prices, not the 2021/22 prices as successfully advocated by QFF, the price increases offset the proposed savings. As a result, many irrigators will be little better off, particularly sugar cane and cotton growers who are only eligible for the 15 percent discount.
For example, prices are set to increase for irrigators in the Pioneer Valley region of Mackay as the price freeze ends eroding their 15 per cent discount to water pricing to a saving of 1.8 per cent. While irrigators from Mareeba-Dimbulah will only see price reductions of 10.1 to 13.3 per cent depending on their location, the upper Burnett will save around 6 per cent, and irrigators in St George can expect a 6 to 12 per cent reduction.
Accessing the additional discount will not be a walk in the paddock for horticultural businesses either, with irrigators required to apply for a rebate through the Queensland Rural and Industry Development Authority (QRIDA). The facilitation of this process remains unclear, and QFF is consulting with the government and QRIDA to ensure irrigators do not face any additional administrative burden. What is clear though, is there is a long way to go for Queensland to achieve equitable and affordable irrigation water pricing to ensure the agriculture sector into the future.
For more information about irrigation water prices, visit: https://www.rdmw.qld.gov.au/water/consultations-initiatives/irrigation-pricing-discounts-2021-24.