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Growers brace for power price hike

POWER HIKE: Canegrower Mark Pressler is unhappy at a possible 27% electricity price increase for irrigators. Photo: Max Fleet / NewsMail
POWER HIKE: Canegrower Mark Pressler is unhappy at a possible 27% electricity price increase for irrigators. Photo: Max Fleet / NewsMail Max Fleet

THE people who grow sugar cane, fruit and vegetables in the Bundaberg region are warning that their industries are at risk if a huge electricity price rise is put in place next year.

Bundaberg Canegrowers has told its members the Queensland Competition Authority is getting ready to recommend a 27% electricity price increase for irrigators in 2014/15.

Bundaberg Regional Irrigators Group spokesman Dale Holliss said rapidly increasing electricity prices were still a big issue for all farmers who rely on irrigation to produce an annual crop.

"If electricity prices continue to increase, irrigated agricultural production will decline," he said.

"Irrigators will not be able to afford to turn on their pumps to grow their crops.

"This would be disastrous to our region as any decline in crop production would hit the local economy hard, with agriculture directly accounting for 13% of the region's GDP."

Cane grower Mark Pressler said he was astounded at the possible size of the electricity price increase.

"If we can't water it's going to affect our crop," he said.

"It will force some growers out of business."

Mr Pressler said not only would growers be paying a high price for electricity the returns they received from their crops would be minimised if they could not irrigate.

Craig van Rooyen, chairman of the Bundaberg Orchardists Association and a director of Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers, said such a big price increase would be an extra nail in the coffin of growers.

"If they keep doing this we'll end up importing all our fruit and vegetables," he said.

Mr Van Rooyen said because the weather had been so dry growers were now pumping water on to their crops 24 hours a day.

He said a 27% electricity price increase would push some growers over the edge.

"I wish we could add 27% on to the price of everything we sell," he said.

National Irrigators Council (NIC) CEO Tom Chesson said many farmers were dreading a visit to the mail box with out-of-control electricity bills soon due to land on kitchen tables around the country.

He said escalating electricity prices was one of the biggest issues facing NIC members.

"The politicians of all persuasions can support lower prices by voting to abolish the carbon tax in the Senate," he said.

"Electricity bills are now a major stress inducer."