Water woes as costs skyrocket for struggling farmers
PIE Creek farmers will have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to get out of their water allocation in the endangered Pie Creek irrigation scheme.
Urban sprawl and bureaucratic indifference appear to have hammered another nail into the coffin of Gympie's rural industry, with auditors declaring that to stay viable, the handful of farmers still using the 37-year-old Pie Creek scheme will soon have to pay six times more for water.
The scheme winds its way through 8km of arable country from the Mary River at The Dawn to Pie Creek.
Constructed in 1976, it opened up that country west of the Mary River and just south of Gympie to dairy, macadamia farming and small crops.
The water in Calico Creek, and most of the tributaries and gullies in that area, is too salty for farming.
Today, only a few commercial producers are still active there; the rest have moved away, retired and/or subdivided their land into rural residential blocks.
This has helped sound the death knell for the irrigation scheme, as only 13% of it is now utilised.
Those farmers who have survived the urban sprawl, droughts, floods and price wars were this week told their water costs will double to $197 a megalitre next year and then to $540 per megalitre in the next few years.
The Queensland Consumers Association recently completed its first audit of the Pie Creek scheme, which falls under the Mary Valley scheme.
If the QCA's recommendations are accepted by the State Government, the price rises will go through.
Irrigators Mick Sims, who grows button squash, and Phil Montgomery, a macadamia producer, said yesterday they would not be able to survive such a huge hit and would be forced to either relocate or walk away.
Pie Creek allocations range from four to 90Ml a year. A farmer using 90Ml a year is looking at a potential annual water bill of about $50,000.
Even worse, the 44 allocations on the Pie Creek scheme cannot be easily offloaded; the "exit fee" is $3600/Ml.
A farmer on an allocation of 90Ml would have to pay $324,000.
The Queensland Farmers Federation has taken up the baton on behalf of Pie Creek farmers.
QFF chief executive officer Dan Galligan said this week "skyrocketing water and electricity costs are two of the biggest challenges facing Queensland farmers and threatening to undermine their viability and profitability.
"As part of the recommendations from the current price review under way, farmers in the Pie Creek region are looking at some of the highest cost escalations to the extent where it renders them unviable.
"With irrigation prices under review across south-east Queensland, the huge rises faced by the Pie Creek region irrigators is just one example of a wake-up call to the State Government that it needs to develop price settings for electricity and water that are affordable for farmers and support them.
"To not do so will compromise the Government's policy targets for increasing the value of agricultural production."
Irrigators in the Cedar Pocket scheme only face small price increases in their fixed tariffs, but their variable tariff will double to $32/Ml in 2013-14.
Current prices only recover about 10% of costs so Cedar Pocket, like Pie Creek, faces an extended period of real price increases to achieve cost recovery.
The QCA has estimated that total tariffs will have to increase to $254/Ml to fully recover costs.
Pie Creek and Cedar Pocket irrigators, with QFF representatives, intend to seek meetings with Energy and Water Supply Minister Mark McArdle.