Water security is vital

By Country News

Ardmona’s Dr Sally Plunkett is a cider maker with expertise in many fields, and for the past 13 years she has been perfecting the brew for her craft label Snakes and Ladders with apples from the Plunkett family orchard.

Drawing on historical diaries written by members of the Australian Women’s Land Army during their time in Mooroopna, Dr Plunkett said their descriptions of the region struck a chord with her.

‘‘They were the women who came up here during World War II to pick the fruit and do all the jobs the men would do — but the men were away at war,’’ she said.

‘‘I was reading their diary entries, and common themes that came up over and over again were the terrifying snakes they had to deal with and the huge and heavy ladders they lugged around the orchards.

‘‘I like the idea of Snakes and Ladders. I connected with the name.’’

Dr Plunkett has travelled with her husband Andrew to Germany and France several times, discovering opportunities to value add to the orchard business that were right on her doorstep.

Just like the growers in Europe she set up a cidery metres from the family’s apple orchard and single-handedly ferments the juice of the fruit they grow, resulting in the cider that is exported to Singapore and available locally.

However, having witnessed the millennium drought first hand, the former cow nutritionist remembers when the region’s future was not so bright.

‘‘I could see the effects of the drought and the impact of not having enough water. From that point on I became very conscious of the need to be efficient,’’ she said.

‘‘On the orchard the way we view this vital resource — essential for the fruit growing process — has changed so dramatically. We are as efficient as possible with everything we do on-farm.

‘‘It just stands to reason that the Connections project needed to be undertaken to reflect what irrigators were doing.’’

For Dr Plunkett, the Connections project secured the opportunity to explore a niche market.

‘‘I wouldn’t have invested all of my time and my life and my energy and my ideas in starting this new business if I didn’t feel secure in the orchard’s future,’’ she said.

‘‘If there was any doubt as to whether we would have water, I wouldn’t have even thought about value adding and starting a new product. I think that would be the same for a lot of people.

‘‘I felt secure in the knowledge that the core business of food production is going to be able to tick over year after year and we will be able to keep producing the amazing fruit we grow here in the Goulburn Valley.’’

Connections project director Frank Fisseler said the upgrades would ensure the future prosperity of the region.

‘‘When the project is complete — and the channels that waste water through leakage, seepage and evaporation are upgraded or rationalised — it’s estimated an average annual water saving of 429Gl will be achieved and irrigation water use efficiency will be increased from about 70 per cent to at least 85 per cent.’’