'Scary numbers' for irrigators

Irrigators speak out as QCA water decision nears


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Canegrowers Isis chair and third-generation cane farmer Mark Mammino.

Canegrowers Isis chair and third-generation cane farmer Mark Mammino.

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Irrigation price hikes could fundamentally change on-farm operations.

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Irrigators in the Wide Bay-Burnett region are sweating on some "pretty scary numbers" as the Queensland Competition Authority mulls possible water price hikes.

The Queensland Farmers' Federation has forecast the price increases faced by irrigation schemes if they are to meet cost-reflective estimates proposed by government utility SunWater.

One of the hardest-hit schemes according to this modelling is Bundaberg, where SunWater has proposed a cost-reflective price $34 per ML more expensive than the current price path.

Canegrowers Isis chair Mark Mammino, a third-generation farmer with a 300 hectare cane operation near Childers, said the price hikes proposed by SunWater were "pretty scary numbers" for some schemes.

The rising cost of water became particularly problematic when paired with electricity costs, he said.

"It could change the way people operate on-farm," he said.

"Some people may take on a lower-cost approach, which then results in lower production.

"Others might have to max out their overdrafts, and that's tough to do after the Banking Royal Commission. That slows down the way they can do business."

The Callide scheme faces the biggest jump, with a $74 per ML difference between the current price path and SunWater's cost-reflective price in 2020/21, according to the QFF modelling.

Eton ($68/ML), Lower Mary ($44/ML), Barker-Barambah ($44/ML), Bundaberg ($34/ML) and Three Moon Creek ($33/ML) are the other schemes facing significant differences between current prices and proposed cost-reflective prices.

Price increases are capped at $2.38/ML per year plus inflation, meaning some schemes could face more than 10 years of steady annual price increases until they meet SunWater's cost-reflective pricing.

LNP natural resources spokesman Dale Last said the projected price increases were unacceptable.

"The projected price increases we are seeing are unacceptable and should be of major concern to farmers and the Wide Bay communities.

"It's clear Queensland farmers are currently getting a bad deal with SunWater."

Industry groups across Queensland have condemned the proposed price paths put forward by SunWater.

The Queensland Farmers' Federation has raised concerns about SunWater's "consistently unreliable" spending plans and the estimates used to calculate its cost-reflective prices.

SunWater has said the QCA would run the ruler over its pricing estimates as part of the review and that no decision has been made.

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