A plan for agriculture

By Olivia Duffey

Permanent horticulture and high value crops like hemp should be explored in the Edward River region.

That is one of the findings of the Agribusiness Masterplan commissioned by Edward River Council.

The report suggests seven indicative projects and ideas that can be explored, under platform areas such as maximising water assets, extracting more value from outputs, attracting capital vital for growth, fostering a culture that embraces new ideas, equipping people for a ‘new normal’, supporting business transition and inspiring confidence in the future.

Other potential projects include investment in intensive farming models like feedlots for dairy, lamb and beef production and encouraging domestic or overseas corporate partnerships.

The document also suggests Edward River Council look at developing new ‘light industrial precincts’, which would assist in the objective to encourage new allied businesses to locate to the region.

Deniliquin Elders agronomist Matt Barker said local conditions would be suitable to both hemp and permanent horticulture.

‘‘Hemp has been explored as an option in northern Victoria, which is close to us, as well as other crops like tomatoes, so it is possible,’’ he said.

‘‘As for permanent horticulture, we have it all around us from Griffith to Mildura and all along the Murray.’’

Mr Barker said the primary hurdle would be access to water for production.

‘‘You would have to have a high security water allocation because general security would cost too much and wouldn't be sustainable,’’ Mr Barker said.

‘‘But, if you could get the water it is a possibility for the region.’’

Farmer Linda Fawns said with the NSW Murray Valley on its second consecutive year of zero general security allocations, it is important the community explores ‘‘new ways to keep our community vibrant’’.

‘‘The future of irrigation isn't bright, so we do need to explore ways to keep ourselves profitable,’’ she said.

‘‘Personally, as a farmer, we have to consider what to do to remain here and to continue farming now.’’

The Agribusiness Masterplan highlights, based on figures from 2013, that agriculture represents half of the Edward River Council economy, which was $556.7 million in 2015/16.

The latest statistics (from 2015/16) indicate the farm gate value of the agribusiness economy in the council area was about $170 million, which with a multiplier effect of 15 is worth $225 million to the region.

Edward River Mayor Norm Brennan said while the masterplan was commissioned by the council, it is a living document to be used and implemented by the community.

He said a community committee, incorporating agribusiness experts, would be established to oversee the implementation of the plan's recommendations.

‘‘This process has been strongly supported by the councillors,’’ Cr Brennan said.

‘‘We have quite a few rural councillors and they can see the opportunity for agriculture which is the key to this whole region.

‘‘The long term goal is to make our community sustainable, so by giving the agriculture sector the ability to have opportunities that they hadn’t necessarily thought of before, we are able to support them as much as they support us as a community.

‘‘If we don’t have a strong agriculture area, we are not going to have a strong community.’’