Cranbrook farmers call on State Government to reinstate the farm water rebate scheme as Federal drought-proof funding runs dry

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Cally DupeGreat Southern Herald
Cranbrook farmers Linden Knight and Rob Johnson are calling for the return of the farm water rebate scheme.
Camera IconCranbrook farmers Linden Knight and Rob Johnson are calling for the return of the farm water rebate scheme. Credit: Liam Croy

A pair of Cranbrook farmers knocked back from a three-year drought subsidy scheme oversubscribed within a year say they were surprised no one told them there was no money left when they submitted their application.

Rob Johnson and Linden Knight have spent about $25,000 excavating dams and installing cup and saucer tanks in dry paddocks since February, after all but one of their 15 dams ran dry for the first time in at least 20 years.

They hoped to reap about $7000 in rebates through the Federal Government’s $50 million emergency water infrastructure rebate scheme when they submitted their application in April.

The program reimbursed farmers 25 per cent of their costs to improve on-farm water infrastructure, for example, de-silting a dam or drilling a new bore.

But the pair were surprised to receive a letter a month later to tell them they had been knocked back because the program had proved so popular it ran out of money a year early.

“We put it in right on the deadline, and no one told us it was fully subscribed,” Mr Johnson said. “We were surprised to find out it was full for this year and for next year.”

Linden Knight and Rob Johnson stand in one of their dry dams.
Camera IconLinden Knight and Rob Johnson stand in one of their dry dams. Credit: Liam Croy

The letter from Department of Water and Environmental Regulation director-general Mike Rowe said the program was created on a condition that it would close on April 30, 2021, or when funding was exhausted.

“DWER has been assessing applications on a first-come, first-served basis, and unfortunately your rebate application cannot be granted at this time,” he said.

“The State Government ... has requested additional funding from the Commonwealth Government ... applications will be progressed if additional funding is made available.”

Mr Johnson said the grant had been a lifeline for many farmers in WA, and something he had hoped would be “ongoing for the next couple of years”.

Instead, he and other farmers planning drought-proofing works would be left “a bit short”.

“It is an incentive to do work, to clean the dams and prepare yourself for a drought,” Mr Johnson said.

“With the grant, you do that little bit extra ... it is an incentive.

“So to find out it was not available, we just thought, ‘Oh no’.”

In some States, including Queensland and South Australia, the State governments also contributed funds to boost the scheme and increase the rebate.

Rob Johnson and his lamb Athena.
Camera IconRob Johnson and his lamb Athena. Credit: Liam Croy

Money is still available in Queensland, where the State Government contributed 50 per cent of the rebate available to farmers.

Mr Johnson said he believed the WA Government should step in and reinstate the farm water rebate scheme, which was scrapped mid-2018.

“It was ongoing, which was good because every farmer in WA didn’t apply all at once,” he said.

“It was disappointing for the State Government to stop that grant.

“I think they should have at least matched the Federal Government rebate scheme, but WA Labor just seems to cut everything in the country.”

Mr Johnson and Ms Knight farm about 4000 Merinos and 300ha of crop across 1100ha about 15km north of Cranbrook, with their son Adam, 22, and daughter Kendall, 21.

They usually average 400mm, but had 300mm last year.

“It is just so patchy, some farmers at Frankland had enough rain to fill dams a few weeks ago,” he said.

“We can grow pasture and we can grow a crop, but we are just not getting any run-off into the dams.

“We will just keep going, and try to keep optimistic that it is going to rain.”

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