Veggie grower limited by winter shutdown

By Country News

The Goulburn Valley has the potential to be the vegie bowl of Victoria but is being held back by the three-month irrigation season shutdown, according to one grower.

Velisha Farms’ Catherine Velisha, who comes from a long line of vegetable growers, said the good climate and lower prices were drivers behind a move to a 48ha Tatura farm more than two years ago.

But with the irrigation system shutting down for three months during winter, Ms Velisha said it was difficult to capitalise on the growing conditions for their zucchinis.

‘‘Weather-wise, to grow vegetables, the days are still warmer than Melbourne ... (but) if we plant in winter we need to rely on rain and we can’t really risk that,’’ she said.

‘‘We can grow vegetables in the Goulburn Valley, but we can’t do it on the scale that could make a real difference to the area without access to water all year round ... I believe there is the potential to feed around 20 per cent of Melbourne’s population with vegetables.’’

With a changing climate seeing rising temperatures, Ms Velisha said the Goulburn Valley region was optimal for growing vegetables year-round and labelled it a huge opportunity for the region.

‘‘If the water rights were expanded to include the three months across winter, many other vegetable growers would be attracted to the region,’’ she said.

‘‘This would result in increased investment, job opportunities and support for local businesses, so ultimately everyone would benefit.’’

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.

Velisha Farms is looking to expand into other vegetables which will add an expected 20 people to its full-time workforce and see benefits flow through to other local businesses.

Goulburn-Murray Water’s interim water delivery general manager Peter Clydesdale said a review was being conducted to see whether there was more opportunity to deliver supply outside of the current August 15 to May 15 irrigation season.

Although subject to maintenance, capital works programs and winter works managed by the Connections project, he said customers could arrange for an out-of-season supply agreement.

‘‘Customers interested in an out-of-season supply arrangement can discuss their needs with a G-MW customer relationship consultant on 1800013357, email: info@gmwater.com.au or visit a G-MW customer service centre,’’ Mr Clydesdale said.

‘‘Outside of the GMID (Goulburn Murray Irrigation District), it should be remembered that the winter period allows for the harvesting and storage of catchment inflows in irrigation storages managed by G-MW.

‘‘This period builds water reserves for delivery during the typically hotter and drier growing season.’’