Water is a critical input for Queensland’s irrigation industry and essential for the future success and growth of agriculture. However, this success and growth is reliant on irrigators’ ability to access affordable, reliable, and secure water particularly in the face of climate change. With on-farm water utilisation in decline and the number of irrigation businesses falling, deliberate and strategic action from the state government is required to capitalise on available opportunities so irrigators can continue producing high quality food, fibre and foliage.
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 corrected its definition of horticulture beyond just fruit and vegetables to include nuts, turf, flowers and nursery growers.
However, we are still a long way from achieving equitable water pricing, with some Queensland irrigation schemes paying above lower bound prices. Therefore, even with the 15 per cent discount as a mitigating factor, many irrigators will not be better off, particularly sugar cane and cotton growers. For example, Part A charges for some irrigators are still around three times higher than the Queensland Competition Authority’s cost reflective price.
We are in an era of change for Queensland’s water management. With high water costs and without the protections and subsidies in other countries, the state’s irrigators are some of the most efficient and productive in the world, but far from profitable. To unlock and enable new growth in agricultural production while continuing to feed, clothe and provide amenity for people at home and overseas, these costs must be addressed.