Northern Victorian dairy farmers say they'll be applying for cheap water, to help grow fodder.
The federal government says water could be available for southern Murray Darling Basin farmers from next week.
Federal Water Resources Minister David Littleproud said the Water for Fodder program would help farmers feed livestock so they could recover quickly when the drought broke.
"It will help farmers keep their herds healthy, so they're not forced to destock," Mr Littleproud said.
"This keeps farmers doing what they do best and provides hope in tough times."
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Farmers can apply to buy up to 100 megalitres, in two parcels of 50ML, for $100/ML.
The government is paying South Australia $100 million to turn on its desalination plant and free up the water, which would otherwise be supplied from the Murray River.
Farmers must be able to pay for the water and delivery costs and not have had more than 1 gigalitre available for delivery, in the current year, through carryover or allocations.
Mr Littleproud estimated the program would produce up to 120,000 tonnes of fodder.
Echuca dairy farmer Steve Hawken said he would be applying for water, under the program.
"I haven't used any water out of the channel system at all," Mr Hawken said.
"It would cost have cost me $25,000 on water this year if I bought it on the market."
He said so-called "environmental flows" were "the biggest load of crap, I've ever heard."
"They've blown that water out to sea, and I can't see one possible use for that - Mother Nature would not be flooding a forest in the middle of a drought, that's sheer, absolute stupidity.
Mr Hawken said the government had taken water, on the one hand, and was giving back a fraction of it, on the other.
"And then they say they are the good guys," he said.
"They can justify it until the cows come home, the only people who will consume that information are idiots."
"Politicians should all stand down and hang heads in shame."
He said politicians had "brought the best part of Australia to its knees, by complete and utter mismanagement."
He was concerned it was not guaranteed every farmer, who needed the water, would get it.
"If I can get 100ML, that will help me get my annuals up and running," he said.
"It negates the $50-60,000 a month in feed, but if I don't get an autumn start, I've written off the next full season of milk production."
Rob Schloss, Stanhope, said he expected many farmers "to have a go at it, if they can get it."
"We'll have a crack at it, anyway," Mr Schloss, a dairy farmer, said.
"The thing is that it all depends on where the price is for the autumn."
"I don't think many would be using it now, it's more likely to be used in the autumn, but anything to help dilute the price would be useful."
"If you were able to get 50-100ML that's better than getting 5ML or 10ML."
He said the amount offered would go to a first watering.
"Putting it into context, if you got 50ML, you might do 20 hectares in one watering, taking into account that you're likely to go through a dry summer," Mr Schloss said.
"But that's 20ha more than you might have done."
Barry Croke, Naring, said he'd just sold his farm but would have looked at taking up several parcels of the 50ML, if he was still running the property.
"I don't know how successful I would have been, as I hear there'll be some ballot process, in the eventual allocation," Mr Croke said.
He said there were questions about the ethical fairness of the program when a farmer could sell his or her allocation on the open market at $700/ML, then buy the water at $100/ML.
"There will also be people who have virtually no seasonal allocation, because they sold their high-reliability water shares, to use the cash for some purpose."
"I think, overall, it just goes to show government intervention can be very dangerous."
Mr Croke said the best solution would have been to have added the 100GL to seasonal allocations.
But organic vegetable grower Wayne Shields, Peninsula Fresh Organics, who has properties at Barham and Baxter, said he'd like to see the scheme extended to horticulturalists.
That’s the bit that breaks my heart,— Wayne Shields (@penfreshorganic) December 2, 2019
Lettuce isn’t permanent
"Last week I paid $930/ML for water, if I could get 50 or 100ML, it brings the average down, and I'd be paying below $500/ML, which makes it a lot more do-able than $900/ML."
As a year-round producer, he had to grow vegetables at both Baxter and on the Murray River, to ensure he had a constant supply for the market.
"If I let these things go, I lose my market share," Mr Shields said.
"I've positioned the farm to be a year-round supplier on every line; I need to grow at both properties to give me that climatic advantage."
"I own a pretty hefty water right, but it's yielded zero for two years."
He said it was likely the plan was constructed the way it was to exclude permanent plantings.