Chasing security

By Sophie Baldwin

A group of innovative dairy farmers looking for a solution to retaining water and wealth in the Torrumbarry irrigation district are in the process of establishing a water platform.

The group, Gannawarra Water Guardians, is looking at a long-term solution where retiring farmers, business owners or anyone with a water entitlement (lessors) can put part of, or all of, their entitlement onto the platform, to be leased by active irrigators (lessees) within the Torrumbarry zone.

Lessors will receive an annual dividend for their water.

The lessee will have access to reasonably priced water over a three- to five-year lease to mitigate business risk, with the idea the wealth generated by irrigation stays in the local community instead of lining the pockets of corporate investors in another state.

The group has been working on this concept since last year and has received funding and help from Murray Dairy and a local philanthropic organisation.

Committee member Skeeta Verhey said water had long been looked at as a problem just for farmers but the reality was, it was a whole community issue.

‘‘Water and irrigation underpins the success of us all — from agriculture to local business, schools, hospitals and our sporting clubs,’’ Mr Verhey said.

‘‘If we want to survive and have thriving communities we need water security and a change in thinking about how to achieve it.’’

Cohuna dairy farmers and committee members Steve and Margot Henty want to see their town remain vibrant and retain its services.

‘‘We own water and are nearing retirement,’’ Mr Henty said.

‘‘We can either sell it and the water leaves the district, or we can put some or all of it onto the platform so farmers without water can access it and remain in the area generating an economy.’’

Mr Henty said the government had spent billions of dollars investing in irrigation infrastructure and there was a real danger the system could become too expensive to run if water continued to leave the district.

‘‘We then run the risk of people leaving, our services following and then all of a sudden we have to travel to Echuca to go to the doctors or hospital,’’ he said.

Mr Verhey said the concept had been well received by irrigators.

‘‘The platform can only be used by irrigators to purchase a third of their annual water requirements to help cut pricing risk (the idea being the platform combines with temporary water purchases and or water ownership),’’ he said.

The group is looking at leasing terms of three to five years with a cash-flow-friendly scenario of payments over a 12-month period.

‘‘One of the major problems we come across is paying large sums for water up front,’’ Mr Verhey said.

‘‘We think this will help support new people into the industry while helping to encourage others to remain.’’

Murray Dairy chief executive officer Jenny Wilson said local community leadership driving local community solutions was critically important.

‘‘Murray Dairy plays an important role in supporting networks with information and access to expertise,’’ Ms Wilson said.

■For more information, phone Skeeta Verhey 0429 408 708.