'Psychological burden' for farmers saves SDRC $6m
THE Invasive Pest Control Scheme is causing "significant stress” to farmers while saving the council millions of dollars each year, according to an independent impact assessment released by the AEC Group this month.
The controversial scheme was introduced in 2017 and requires landholders to pay a pest management levy in addition to an upfront concession fee, to be waived if the property passes compliance tests.
The threat of receiving a supplementary rates notice during drought, despite efforts to comply, was a source of "psychological burden” for some Southern Downs landholders included in the survey.
Grazier Lawrence Ryan said it was a common concern for farmers.
"They just don't have any more money to pay fines,” he said.
"You spend quite a bit of money on pest management as it is.
"Council doesn't seem to understand we're in the middle of the biggest drought in Australian history and a lot of people just don't have the money.”
The report found rural residents each spent an additional $3200 to comply with regulations, but admitted landholders found it difficult to accurately estimate the cost because pest management was often a combination of personal labour and hired contractors.
Mr Ryan said that amount was far under what he had spent at his property while trying to eliminate boxthorn.
Despite the stipulations of the scheme, Councillor Cameron Gow said the council was taking a "common sense and practical approach” to implementation and enforcement.
"We are working with farmers to adapt to the many challenges the region and the environment are facing,” Cr Gow said.
"There's no expectation to follow through with it if you aren't able to right now. We need to make sure we're getting that point across.”
According to AEC, the Southern Downs Regional Council "lost” an estimated $6 million over five years fighting to control pests such as boxthorn, wild dogs and rabbits in the lead-up to the scheme's introduction.
But since implementation, SDRC has received more than $480,000 from levies alone.
The report says the financial impact of the levies have been "conservatively assumed to be a transfer of benefits between landholders and council” and so the impact of the levy cost on farmers was excluded from the report.
"It feels like it's just a revenue-raising scheme to me,” Mr Ryan said. "Most of the region isn't doing anything different from the last 50 years.
"We don't need council to tell us how to run our properties because it's in the best interests of landholders to do that anyway.”
There have, however, been significant benefits to the scheme.
Infested land has decreased by more than 23,000ha to an average of 26ha per property, demonstrating the practical success of the scheme.
AEC estimates that if SDRC continues to enforce pest management, the productivity benefits of cleared land will result in a financial return of $2 for every dollar spent for an overall predicted value boost of $74.3 million over 30 years.
SDRC concluded these benefits outweighed costs and voted to extend the scheme.
"Council took an informed risk introducing the IPCS and it is clear from this review that it was the right choice,” Cr Gow said.