Power costs make farmers scale back

Sarah IsonBusselton Dunsborough Times

The State Government’s measures to reel in the Budget are hurting one of WA’s biggest economic drivers, with South West farmers emerging as one of the hardest hit by rising electricity prices.

The rise in fees and charges were announced by Treasurer Ben Wyatt in June as a way to help repair the Budget but local farmers are feeling the pinch, with some scaling back operations and others examining renewable energy sources to reel in soaring expenses.

Marybrook potato farmer and vineyard owner Ian Carter told the Times it was no longer viable to produce all crops this coming season.

“While we’ll continue running our vineyard, we’re just not going to grow potatoes this year because, along with the market uncertainty thanks to deregulation, we’re just being squeezed too much at the moment,” he said.

Mr Carter said the electric pumps extracting underground water were one of the main energy guzzlers but he empathised particularly with dairy farmers, who faced “even greater challenges”.

Scott River dairy farmer Ross Woodhouse said running power “almost all day every day” ran up a hefty annual bill of $400,000, to which the electricity price increase would add another $40,000.

“Cooling milk and heating water uses a hell of a lot of power and needs to run all the time,” he said.

“The options are to either give up altogether or learn how to save power somehow.”

WAFarmers general policy executive officer Grady Powell said the rise in electricity costs was a worry for the industry.

“It is concerning that many farmers receive such high electrical bills when their work is so critical to the State’s economy,” Mr Powell said.

Other challenges faced by the sector are the former Government’s deregulation of the potato industry, the supermarket giants’ selling of $1 a litre milk and a global oversupply of dairy.

Treasurer and Energy Minister Ben Wyatt appreciated the farming community believed it was unfair it should shoulder some of the burden of Budget repair, but took aim at the previous government’s handling of the State’s finances.

Mr Wyatt said Labor had made it clear it would help those struggling with utility bills and pointing to the “topping up” of the Hardship Utility Grant Scheme payments and reinstatement of financial counsellors.

Despite unease in the sector, some expressed willingness to explore different energy sources.

Margaret River dairy farmer Ian Noakes said more farmers could soon be making a switch to renewables, while Mr Woodhouse conceded farmers needed to “take control of their own destiny” and consider investing in solar.

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