North Eton cane grower Lee Blackburn was one 300 cane growers connected to Sunwater’s Eton scheme, which in December started transitioning to a locally management system. Photo: Peter Holt
North Eton cane grower Lee Blackburn was one 300 cane growers connected to Sunwater’s Eton scheme, which in December started transitioning to a locally management system. Photo: Peter Holt

Farmers take back control of the water pump

GROWERS are taking back control of the water pump, reducing irrigation prices amid a review of state-government owned irrigation schemes.

The Queensland Competition Authority released their report which recommended slashing the Sunwater pricing proposal by 5 per cent, potentially saving irrigators $14.2 million over the next four years.

Despite reducing the total bill, the competition watchdog warned farmers they would still be paying more at the pump, with prices including safety upgrades and other growing expenses.

But for farms switching to locally managed water schemes, the QCA report was vindicating.

North Eton cane grower Lee Blackburn was one 300 cane growers connected to Sunwater’s Eton scheme, which in December started transitioning to a locally management system.

Eton Irrigation Cooperative chairman Lee Blackburn said the locally managed water scheme would reduce the irrigation bills of 300 cane growers.
Eton Irrigation Cooperative chairman Lee Blackburn said the locally managed water scheme would reduce the irrigation bills of 300 cane growers.

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The Eton Irrigation Cooperative chairman said the recent decision would save his farm and other Eton growers $24.84 per megalitre over the next year, compared to the QCA pricing.

Mr Blackburn said locally managed prices would reach $87.38 per megalitre.

And he was optimistic that moving water management locally would provide long term savings at the pump.

“We always thought we could reduce costs locally,” Mr Blackburn said.

As Sunwater safety upgrades are implimented, Mr Blackburn said bulk costs would increase.

The Eton switch follows similar locally managed schemes in Emerald, Theodore and St George.

For the Bowen, Proserpine, Airlie Beach and Midge Point farms connected to the Sunwater Proserpine River water supply scheme, prices would increase by up to 16 per cent over the next four years, the QCA report warned.

But the steepest increase would be for Kelsey Creek Water Board irrigators, where bills could increase by 25 per cent by 2024.

Queensland Farmers’ Federation CEO Georgina Davis slammed the report for ignoring farmers’ price concerns, particularly by pushing the bill for safety upgrades onto irrigators.

“At a time when there is such uncertainty regarding water security and access throughout the agriculture sector, the QCA has chosen to ignore farmers’ concerns about their ability to pay for water and the future productivity and profitability of their businesses,” she said.

The final decision on irrigation prices remains with the State Government.