THE peak organisation representing market gardeners has echoed concerns of growers and rural landowners that future cuts to their water allocations will destroy livelihoods.
North Wanneroo Agriculture and Water Taskforce, chaired by Wanneroo MLA Sabine Winton, delivered its report into water allocation and land use issues in Carabooda, Neerabup and Nowergup last month.
On January 30, Minister for Agriculture and Food Alannah MacTiernan responded to the recommendations and Water Minister Dave Kelly announced a 10 per cent reduction in groundwater allocations from 2028, rather than 25 per cent.
vegetablesWA chief executive John Shannon, who was a member of the taskforce, acknowledged the decrease to the proposed groundwater allocations but said they did not go far enough and the industry did not support any cuts.
“The taskforce and the government have listened but even a 10 per cent reduction to water allocations will have crippling impact on growers in the region,” he said.
“Any cut at all will be unacceptable to vegetable growers, because their livelihood depends on their full allocation.
“It is also incredibly disappointing news that the minister has ruled out compensation for affected growers.
“We know that in 2016-17 vegetable growers achieved an average return on capital of 4 per cent that financial year – the bottom 25 per cent of growers generated a return on capital of minus 6 per cent.
“The government owes it to those growers to look at ways to financially support them if these changes come into effect.”
Premier Mark McGowan told Community News the 10 per cent reduction was “a huge win for local farmers” whose allocations were going to be cut by 25 per cent under the previous government.
“It’s only a 10 per cent reduction in their allocation,” he said.
“We want our growers to be sustainable.
“If the capacity of groundwater is declining, we’ve got to recognise that.
“What growers want is long-term certainty and that’s what we are trying to give them.”
Group gives growers and rural landowners voice in water crisis
North Wanneroo Residents Association chairman Mark Zagar said there had been overwhelming support for the group’s grass roots campaign and it was engaging with government departments on its “better plan for north Wanneroo”.
“The suggested 10 per cent cut to water licences with no guarantee of further cuts and no compensation are a disaster for the local economy and jobs,” he said.
“Many farmers are already struggling on extremely tight profit margins; many will go out of business.
“This is not a solution but a source of great stress and anxiety, great uncertainty, a slow death sentence for the area – it doesn’t fix the problem.”
The Nowergup resident said any cuts or charges for water would be “devastating” for landowners and farmers, many of whom were pioneering families of Wanneroo.
Mr Zagar said the group would continue advocating to have recommendations implemented from the decade-old ‘Future of east Wanneroo’ report and for WA to implement the National Water Initiative.
He said it also wanted a group formed with government and community representatives to deliver a future agricultural precinct and the government to develop plans to create a “Margaret River of the North” in the Carabooda-Nowergup lake valley as environmental, tourism and lifestyle strip.
Taskforce report says farms employ 1040, generate $119m
In her taskforce report, Ms Winton said alternate land uses promoted by some landowners were “premature”.
“Whilst it is clear that there are some growers who are seeking to exit the industry and therefore are promoting land use changes, I have ensured that the focus of our work was in line with the terms of reference set by the minister,” she said.
“It is clear that without a new source of water, market gardening in Wanneroo will decline and have a limited long-term future.”
The report said there were about 100 horticultural growers in north Wanneroo, where agricultural production generated about $47.7 million.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, agricultural production across the City of Wanneroo was $119 million in 2015-16, and the report said the sector employed almost 1040 people.
It said the north Wanneroo area included 3300ha of rural land, with 1380ha used for agriculture, and groundwater use there was about 11GL a year, exceeding the current allocation of 9.95GL/year.
In her response, Ms MacTiernan supported retention of existing irrigated areas and existing rural zoning, and agreed to develop a business case for a leasehold agri-precinct in State Forest 65 supplied by recycled water.
Mr Shannon welcomed the minister’s commitment to seek federal funding through the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund to prepare a business case to develop an agricultural precinct.
Mr McGowan said the government would work with growers to find alternative water sources.
Water cuts would take away farmer’s livelihood
George Kyme has spent the past 50 years working on his family’s tomato farm, established by his father more than 65 years ago, and has a second farm for chickens.
“We’ve had the chicken farm now for about 35 years,” he said.
“There’s no way we can survive by getting water cuts – if we lose 10 per cent, it means not being able to water the chickens.
“Any cut to our production is going to take our livelihood away.
“We can’t survive with any more water cuts – we would have to lay people off.”
Mr Kyme said they employed up to 50 people and in the long term wanted to continue farming.
He said banks were looking at how the proposed cuts reduced the values of their properties, which would make it harder for them to get loans.
“We’ve got no security; we can’t expand,” he said.
“There’s no guarantee that it will be 10 per cent in 2028 – if the government changes, so does everything else.”
Mr Kyme said growers wanted the government to leave them alone, find another solution, or compensate them for water allocation cuts.
Landowner relies on water allocation to keep tenants farming
Carabooda resident Peter Jambanis (61) said he was concerned about the effect water cuts would have on the farmers who lease his family’s land.
“Our only income is our property – if the water goes, so do our tenants,” he said.
“We just can’t afford to lose any water in our area because it’s not viable.”
His family has been involved in market gardening since his grandfather moved to Wanneroo in the 1930s, but he said was harder to make money as prices paid to growers had not increased much in the past three or four decades.
“I drive a school bus now – I could see what was happening so I pulled out and went into school buses,” he said.
Mr Jambanis said he hoped to eventually subdivide his property to create rural lifestyle blocks, and sell them to fund his retirement.
“This is my super,” he said.
Mr Jambanis said he already had 23,000L rainwater tanks on his property and solar energy provided power for the water systems.