Significant changes to water management, including to market transparency and trading rules, have been flagged in a bid to support struggling irrigators in Northern Victoria, as dairy farmers continue to face dry conditions and high prices for water and fodder.
Minister for Water, Lisa Neville, and Minister for Agriculture, Jaclyn Symes, attended a dairy industry roundtable in Tatura to hear firsthand from the community, local farmers and the water sector, and discuss potential changes to water market rules and transparency.
“Today was a great opportunity to sit down and discuss with local farmers how we can work together to support the dairy and irrigation industries through ongoing dry conditions and high prices,” Ms Symes said.
“Getting the water market transparency and trading rules right is a key part of that, along with making as much water as possible available to irrigators in Northern Victoria in a way that protects the surrounding environment.”
Knowing who is buying and selling water is an increasingly important issue for irrigators. Ms Neville has asked the department of water to look at the options and benefits of a completely transparent water trading system, to provide confidence that the market is working for irrigators and not being distorted.
Ms Neville has also asked for inter-valley trade rules to be reviewed, following concerns about high volumes of trade and environmental damage to the Goulburn. This work will be completed by the end of July 2019.
The Victorian Government has recently been working on how to manage increasing demand from the Lower Murray region, with advice expected to be provided by the end of June 2019. This includes potentially curbing new extraction from the river, which has been called for by various industry bodies.
With irrigators set to receive their share of recovered water at the end of the Connections Project, a consultative committee will be set up mid-year to recommend the best mechanism to distribute the irrigators share. The committee will be chaired by former Victorian MP and VFF President, Paul Weller, and include representatives from the irrigation sector.
For the region, this means connecting landowners to the modernised system, generating significant water savings for the environment and a valuable economic boost.
The government is also providing assistance through a $45 million drought package, making extra water available where possible and ensuring flexible hardship programs are accessible through water corporations.
An extra $2.7 million will further support farmers experiencing dry seasonal conditions in Northern Victoria with more financial counsellors on the ground, the re-establishment of Rural Skills Connect to train farmers off the farm, and further infrastructure grants to make farms more resilient to future dry conditions.