MANY western and central Victorian farmers have reduced their sheep numbers due to water shortages in the past two years, a Victorian Farmers Federation survey has found.
The VFF said 292 federation members across the state responded to the survey, but VFF Stock and Domestic Water Taskforce chairman Peter Delahunty said the federation would welcome a broader state-wide government survey of all farmers on the stock and domestic water issue.
The survey results have prompted the federation to call on the State Government to deliver a stock and domestic water plan in the wake of long-term decline in south-east Australia’s rainfall runoff. Mr Delahunty said since the early 1990s a decline in rainfall run-off that has led to more frequent water shortages, forcing farmers to cut stock numbers, cart water or put in emergency pipelines.
“We’re grateful that the State Government has stepped in to fund a number of feasibility studies into stock and domestic water pipelines across the state, but now we need to take the next step and deliver a stock and domestic water strategy for the state.”
The VFF said the State Government needed to ensure the State Water Plan currently being developed considered stock and domestic water shortages. The federation said a draft plan released in May did not do this and it believed a stock and domestic water strategy was needed.
Plan will consider water shortage impact
A spokesperson for Victoria’s Minister for Water Lisa Neville said the Government is continuing discussions with key stakeholders about components of the state’s water plan, due for release towards the end of 2016.
“The water plan is looking at how we can best balance agricultural, industry, urban, recreational and environmental water use for the decades to come.
“Part of this consultation process considers the impact of water shortages on stock and domestic supply, and how landholders can manage their supplies,” the spokesperson said.
“We continue to involve the Victorian Farmers Federation in these discussions.
“Victoria continues to face dry conditions and over time there will be an increased demand for water.”
Water shortages forcing farmers to destock
The VFF survey showed stock water shortages had forced farmers to reduce stock numbers, sell stock when the market is not ideal and expend resources on sourcing alternative water supplies. It found:
- 74 percent of Wimmera respondents consider their stock water secure
- 48pc of Central Victorian and 50pc of Western Victorian sheep producer respondents reduced stock numbers in the past 24 months
- 32pc of respondents in Central Victoria, 21pc in south west Victoria and 21pc in western Victoria have carted water in the past 24 months
- 60pc of western Victorian respondents have sought alternate supplies in the past 24 months
- 43pc of respondents utilise bores for stock water
- 34pc of respondents have fully reticulated their on-farm stock water systems
The survey found that western Victoria and Central Victoria are the most vulnerable regions to stock water shortages and have been most affected by recent dry conditions. The Wimmera has the most secure stock water supplies delivered through the Wimmera-Mallee Pipeline. North west Victoria benefits from the Wimmera-Mallee and Northern Mallee Pipeline system, while northern Victoria benefits from smaller schemed water systems. South west Victoria is heavily reliant on groundwater, which is considered a secure stock water source.
Benefits of secure stock water supplies identified by farmers included domestic benefits, personal well-being benefits (less stress), the ability to maintain stock numbers during dry periods and better quality water for spraying.
Stock water shortages becoming more prevalent
Mr Delahunty said the survey results supported the organisation’s call for a stock and domestic water strategy.
“Stock water shortages are becoming more prevalent right across Victoria – regions we thought were safe from shortages ran out of water last summer.
“We need long-term vision from government to help the agriculture industry adapt to seasonal variability and changing rainfall patterns,” Mr Delahunty said.
“We’re not under the illusion that the government will be able to help everybody, but there has been some good success stories.”
Despite Victorian Government investment in feasibility studies into extending the Wimmera Mallee Pipeline to Ararat and stock and domestic pipelines at Mitiamo and in Gippsland, more money would be required to fund pipeline extensions, he said.
In western Victoria, a reduction in bore licensing “red-tape”, encouragement of co-operative solutions between governments and farmers, and potential tapping of the Dilwyn Aquifer in south-west Victoria could help, Mr Delahunty said.
“Most farmers are quite willing to put in on-farm storage if they can get access to good quality water.”
The VFF said the survey results demonstrated the security provided by large scale scheme stock water systems such as the Wimmera-Mallee Pipeline, Northern Mallee Pipeline and the Goulburn Murray Water system, as well as smaller schemes such as the Normanville, Eppalock and East Loddon Pipelines. Opportunities exist for the State Government to fund and encourage on-farm and off-farm water infrastructure to fill the gaps in Victoria’s stock water supply network and assist Victorian farmers in preparing for dry conditions, the federation said.
“This investment could boost Victorian farm productivity through the delivery of more secure stock water sources – such an initiative would greatly benefit the red meat, dairy and intensive industries,” Mr Delahunty said.