On-farm ‘efficiency’ and all the positives that are associated with it have been given a lot of air time within agriculture circles. Principally, that increasing efficiencies and professionalising farming practices makes good economic, environmental and business sense.
Queensland irrigators have been subject to wide scale federal reform to water use since 2007, resulting in significant structural adjustments in the irrigation sector, including significant capital investments by farmers and the adoption of water saving infrastructure and practices. These measures have delivered the desired reductions in water use and Queensland irrigators are now among the world’s most efficient. However, the high and intense energy use associated with these technologies, coupled with rising electricity, is unravelling any perceptions of overall on-farm ‘efficiency’ and impacting productivity.
The cost increases for electricity (associated with rising network charges) as well as the current network tariff reforms in Queensland have severely impacted irrigators’ profitability and indeed their future viability.
The Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) has continued to advocate for joined-up thinking so that all future water efficiency programs and initiatives factor in the energy efficiency of the equipment, with an overall focus on farm business profitability. It is no longer acceptable to ‘silo’ water efficiency programs that do not deliver overall ‘efficient’ outcomes across all the utilities.
Governments must accept and acknowledge the role of irrigated agriculture in supplying food, fibre and foliage and the income it generates, particularly in regional communities. Put simply, for an ‘efficient’ and viable irrigated agricultural sector in Queensland to continue to operate and grow, it needs to be supported with policy that immediately resolves the artificial segregation across government departments between water and energy and overall on-farm ‘efficiencies’. This means addressing the issues of energy affordability for Queensland’s irrigators through both immediate and structural changes for the state and federal energy market and ceasing any mandatory buy-back of water allocations from productive farm land.