Irrigator’s costs just keep climbing

By Sophie Baldwin

It has been more than two-and-a-half years since beef producer and hay grower John Dickson has run a drop of irrigation water over his 70ha Cohuna property, Cullen Park.

But like clockwork, his fixed price irrigation costs arrive annually, increasing by about $400 each year.

This year he will fork out $6100 for nothing, and with temporary water prices currently sitting above $600/Ml, he isn’t expecting to irrigate again this year either.

Mr Dickson and his wife Di Wyatt bought their property six years ago — when water was $30/Ml and it cost $6000 to irrigate the entire property.

In 2019 based on current prices, that figure would be $120,000.

The couple did their homework, spoke to other farmers in the area about worst-case scenarios and thought they were buying a sustainable little business.

And in the early years it was.

Mr Dickson used to be able to grow about 300 tonne of pasture hay and rotate 80 to 100 beefies annually, and do "reasonably okay".

“That was all before things started to get interesting,” he said.

They have been forced to destock the beef side of their operation.

“This year we have been able to grow decent pasture on rainfall and we might do okay with hay, but it’s not in the bale yet,” Mr Dickson said.

He said over the past four years, he had only been able to irrigate once — and yet his infrastructure charges continually creep up.

“Goulburn-Murray Water have done nothing to upkeep my line in six years.

"I have been unable to irrigate due to ridiculous water prices and yet I am still paying to finance G-MW upgrades — I have been promised a stock and domestic line since I first bought the property and I am still waiting.”

Mr Dickson said the installation of the line would make the process of filling dams on his property far more efficient and cheaper — and yet he is still waiting.

“We did consider turning the farm to a dryland scenario but that would cost us around $90,000 — we have 1.53 delivery shares and it would cost us $70,000 to get rid of them alone, plus the removal of infrastructure and we certainly can’t afford that either.”

Mr Dickson said the high cost of water was pushing people off their farms.

“The town of Cohuna is really getting squeezed.

"I am going okay because  I have an off-farm income but there are some people who aren’t, and these people are the backbone of the community.

"The only thing wrong is water and it is impacting them immensely.

"No-one can afford to buy water at $600 and I really feel for the dairy farmers.”