Grower eyes vegie hotspot

By Country News

Access to water throughout the entire year has seen a third-generation vegetable grower capitalise on the cooler months at her Tatura farm, and she says there’s a real market for vegetable growers in the Goulburn Valley.

Werribee South’s Velisha Farms leader Catherine Velisha recently purchased 49ha in Tatura with the goal to produce vegetables year-round and attract others in the agricultural industry to move into the region.

However, to meet the growing demand of the industry and grow on the scale she needed, Ms Velisha needed access to water year-round.

With vegetables able to be planted every eight to 12 weeks, she said there was only a short period of time to wait for the next crop if one wasn’t successful, but relying on rain in winter was too risky.

So Ms Velisha approached Goulburn-Murray Water to see if she could receive an out-of-season irrigation supply to extend growing into the winter months, which G-MW agreed to.

‘‘We have a much broader vision to use this opportunity to demonstrate the currently unexplored opportunities to others in the agriculture industry to attract them to the region,’’ she said.

‘‘We believe there is huge potential to upscale the industry in the region which will have major employment and economic benefits. In fact, I believe there is the potential to feed around 20percent of Melbourne’s population with vegetables.’’

A changing climate had resulted in rising temperatures, making it about five to six degrees warmer than Melbourne and that made the area ideal for growing vegetables year-round, Ms Velisha said.

‘‘It’s just 90 minutes from Epping Market and five hours from Sydney Market, which makes it well positioned for transporting the produce,’’ she said.

Ms Velisha plans to establish a permanent workforce on the farm, with 20 full-time roles expected to be created, and forge partnerships with the region’s other growers.

‘‘Our generation of young farmers and business owners see the value in collaboration and working as a whole to create better outcomes for everyone,’’ she said.

‘‘It’s more about the next generation working as a group to grow the whole and improve the industry.’’

The irrigation season in the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District ended on May 15 and restarts on August 15, with the three-month winter shutdown allowing G-MW and the Connections project to perform essential maintenance and important capital upgrades to the irrigation delivery network.

G-MW interim water delivery general manager Peter Clydesdale said only specific areas were selected to be worked on each winter, which was why some areas could be given access to water during this shutdown period.

‘‘In some cases, where there are no impacts on other customers or our scheduled maintenance programs, such as in Ms Velisha’s case, we may be able to negotiate an out-of-season payment and delivery arrangement,’’ he said.

‘‘In this case we’re pleased our customer service staff were able to assist Velisha Farms with their growth plans, both for this season and the longer-term benefit of the GMID.’’