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Burdekin irrigators take up the fight on water prices

26 August 2020 | Burdekin irrigators are taking the fight to the State Government on water issues.

Burdekin River Irrigation Area (BRIA) irrigators have called for water prices and future dam safety costs to be eased to support the sector’s growth and provide a much needed shot in the arm for the State’s recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

Government froze irrigation water prices in May but only for 2020/21, following an earlier recommendation by the Queensland Competition Authority for substantial annual price increases in the regulated Water Supply Schemes that service the State’s cane fields.

“If water and electricity are affordable to the growers, it’s going to mean that we’re going to increase our productivity, it’s going to mean more jobs locally, more jobs in the mills, more jobs at the sugar terminals, right through the whole industry,” said BRIA Irrigators Chairman Mr Mario Barbagallo.

Mario Barbagallo

“We need certainty from government and from the opposition, in the lead up to the election to know exactly what we’re doing.”

Mario Barbagallo , BRIA Chair

Mr Barbagallo said a strong sugar industry was key to Queensland’s fightback from COVID-19, adding that when the sugar industry suffered, sugar communities up and down the coast and Queenslanders in general suffered as well.

It was a view shared by Burdekin Shire Mayor, Ms Lyn McLaughlin.

“Any changes or increases in production cost always has an effect on our community,” Ms McLaughlin said.

“The effects of that will be far reaching; it doesn’t just affect the farmer, it affects businesses in town, it could affect the production and processing at our mills.

“A strong sugar industry in the Burdekin is really vital for us to sustain the Burdekin community, and I think that Queensland benefits from anything good that the Burdekin does,” she said.

With Queenslanders due to head to the polls in two months, the Australian Sugar Milling Council (ASMC) last week called for urgent talks with the State Government to action supportive water policies.

“We can help Queensland back on the road to recovery and support the Premier’s focus on job creation, but not without a return to affordable water pricing levels,” ASMC chief executive David Pietsch said.

“Lower water costs translate to more efficient irrigation use and higher cane yields, which will significantly relieve the current challenges faced by many cane farming enterprises and sugar mills, as well as businesses heavily reliant on them such as local service providers,” Mr Pietsch said.

Mr Pietsch said the Queensland sugar industry contributed in excess of $4 billion to the Queensland economy annually and supported more than 23,000 jobs throughout the State, but the industry faced significant challenges including flat-lining productivity, increasing overseas competition and depressed global sugar prices.

A report by ASMC* handed down in April demonstrated that a 25 percent reduction in the price of irrigated water could deliver up to $220 million in additional economic activity and an additional 140 direct jobs and indirect jobs.

Reference * https://asmc.com.au/sugar-irrigation-cost-benefit/ and https://asmc.com.au/sugar-irrigation-cost-benefit/sugar-profiles-water-price/