STAYING STRONG: Lockyer Valley Growers president Michael Sippel is worried about the future of the industry with a desperate need to secure water in the region.
STAYING STRONG: Lockyer Valley Growers president Michael Sippel is worried about the future of the industry with a desperate need to secure water in the region. Ali Kuchel

Fruit, veggie growers could go same way as dairy farmers

FRUIT and vegetable growers could very well go in the same direction as the struggling dairy industry as local farmers feel the squeeze from every side.

Lockyer Valley Growers president Michael Sippel said it had been a "bloody tough season" for farmers in the Valley and surrounding areas, with "worry" a common feeling amongst growers.

The Queensland Competition Authority, on behalf of the State Government, released the draft rural irrigation price review concerning the Central and Lower Lockyer Valley schemes last week for stakeholder feedback.

The highly contentious introduction of new regulations has farmers worried about the flow-on effects on the entire region, as farmers will pay increasing fixed costs for water they might not even be able to access due to historically underperforming local dams.

If farmers are hamstrung by a lack of water, it will have a massive impact on the local economy.

The final report is expected to be released in February.

Representatives from the growers group and the Lockyer Water Users Forum are reluctant to make official comment on the 177-page report until they have fully gone through it.

Mr Sippel said the drought combined with below-average prices for produce meant many farmers were just concerned with keeping their heads above water.

"Central Lockyer is one part of the puzzle... those guys are not just battling drought but also battling the uncertainty of what water they are going to be able to access out of their bores going forward," he said.

"They've lived in a situation where that water has always been available to them. Even if the bores got low, they could still access it but under the new plan they can't access it.

"We're facing drought and below average prices, there's just not a lot of demand. Growers are optimistic people and hopefully they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. The drought is another headache they don't need."

High electricity prices were also having an impact; Mr Sippel just spoke to one grower with a quarterly power bill in excess of $100,000 across his farming operation.

Mr Sippel said the pressure is also coming from supermarket giants with suppliers feeling the heat of keeping prices down as their costs spiral.

"If (farmers) don't live up to it, they'll find someone who can (supply). Sadly in 20 years time, I feel they will be driven out," he said.

"I'm really worried in this country that we don't value food and we don't value our growers."

"It's just expected to walk into Coles or Woolworths to have food on the shelves. People expect good food at a certain price and it to be there 12 months of the year."

Mr Sippel said he was worried about the future of the industry and compared it to the struggles faced by dairy farmers.

There were over 20,000 dairy farms in Australia in 1980 and that number has dropped to below 6,000.

The Lockyer Valley and Somerset Water Collaborative, chaired by former State Minister Stephen Robertson, is working to secure water for the regions.

"(Farmers) lie in bed and don't sleep at night," Mr Sippel said.

Water vital for economy

"IT all comes down to water."

Those are the words of Lockyer Valley Growers president Michael Sippel during an important period for the future of many local growers.

The Lockyer Water Users Forum is working with the Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy to negotiate a reasonable outcome for irrigators for a new price path for local water supply schemes to be released in February.

The Lockyer Valley and Somerset Water Collaborative, chaired by former State Minister Stephen Robertson, is working to secure water security for the regions via a new pipeline from Lake Wivenhoe or recycled water from the Western Corridor Recycled Water Scheme and Lowood.

"I'd love to see the State Government put its hand up and say you know what, we've got to do something," Mr Sippel said.

"If (the impact) of climate change is right we're going to have these seasons more and more often. Droughts are going to keep coming but we need the water in the system to last otherwise we won't have food."

"We need (water) security, we need to be investing in dams. If we had water there would never be one unemployed person in the Lockyer Valley."



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