Skyrocketing electricity prices force CQ irrigation farmer's 40pc production decline

Martin Bunyard
By Martin Bunyard
Updated September 6 2018 - 9:17pm, first published 9:00pm
Central Queensland irrigation hay farmer Mick Zimmermann says his fodder operation has now reduced production by 40 per cent due to ongoing high electricity prices.

A central Queensland irrigation hay farmer has called on government and energy providers to achieve a 50 per cent reduction in rural electricity costs in order to make his business viable again.

Mick Zimmermann, who operates an irrigated lucerne farm near Biloela, explained how the cost of running electric pumps to water his hay crops has jumped 300 per cent over the past two years.



Mr Zimmermann raised his electricity price concerns during an on-farm visit to his Hills Farm property by Nationals deputy leader Senator Bridget McKenzie and federal member for Flynn Ken O’Dowd on Thursday.

Irrigation farmer Mick Zimmermann explains to Senator Bridget McKenzie and federal member for Flynn Ken O'Dowd how electricity prices to power his water irrigation pumps have jumped 300 per cent over the past two years.

“Currently we’re only irrigating 70 acres of fodder crops, despite being able to plant up to 170 acres under water irrigation,” Mr Zimmermann said. 

“Due to high electricity prices it’s to costly for us to plant the extra 100 acres of fodder crops under water irrigation.”

Mr Zimmermann estimates the reduced planting adds up to a potential $250,000 of farm income loss, but noted the power bills to pump irrigation water to the extra 100 acres is “simply unaffordable” for his business. 

“We struggle to afford our current $11,000-a-month rural electricity bill, which the same or even more power usage two years ago only cost us $3500.”

Federal member for Flynn Ken O'Dowd, senator Bridget McKenzie and lucerne farmer Mick Zimmermann inspect the farm's water irrigated fodder crops.

During an interview with Queensland Country Life Senator McKenzie and minister O’Dowd alluded to electricity prices being top of the list during recent coalition agreement negotiations between Michael McCormack lead Nationals and new prime minister Scott Morrison’s Liberal federal parties.

“Taking to the party room a couple of weeks ago the landed position of the cabinet encompassed the ACCC report recommendations, which would see the federal government investing or underwriting private investment into new dispatchable power generation...that could include hydro, gas and coal,” Senator McKenzie said.

The senators comments are overshadowed by recent media reports ousted prime minister Malcolm Turnbull drafted a billion dollar bill to help reduce power prices, but it was said the bill was rejected by his cabinet. 

Why not past costs on to hay buyers

Checking through his hay receipt book, farmer Mick Zimmermann notes he’s only been able to charge $12 a lucerne hay bale since 2008. 

Farmer Mick Zimmermann inspects his irrigated lucerne crop with senator Bridget McKenzie and federal member for Flynn Ken O'Dowd on Thursday.

These stagnant hay prices over the past 10 years have meant his farming operation hasn’t been able to past the increased cost of hay production on to buyers. 

“Only this winter I’ve been able to raise my lucerne hay prices to $14 a small square bale, but that 15 per cent price increase doesn’t offset our 300pc jump in water irrigation electricity costs over the past two years,” Mr Zimmermann said. 

In addition, farmer Zimmermann said he’s receiving up to 20 calls a week from livestock producers wanting hay for drought feeding, but simply has to turn them away due to extra fodder crop production being to expensive with current electricity price charges. 

Why solar power currently won’t work

Farmer Mick Zimmermann also noted it would cost his business an estimated $400,000 to convert to solar powered electric irrigation pumps. 

Water irrigated crops near Biloela in central Queensland.



“The up-front cost of solar power is very expensive for our farming business and currently there’s no reliable solar battery storage units to guarantee running our watering centre pivots at night, which is the most efficient time to irrigate due to reduced water evaporation,” Mr Zimmermann said. 

The Zimmermann family have now decided to only focus on producing higher value crops like lucerne, while switching off water irrigation to their barley crops due to the high electricity prices.

“We’re putting our high-cost power to the production of only high-value crops like lucerne,” he said.

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