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Community first

When Riverland Wine Members met last week to focus on the future. They were each invited to jot down their three ‘top of mind’ sentiments. The responses were many and varied but the core theme was one of concern for the entire community of the Murray-Darling Basin. There was discussion about particular aspects of water policy. Many were cautious but the words ‘climate change’ were uttered. Some, at Loxton in particular found themselves drawn into talk of prices and the security of long term contracts versus the benefits of being free agents and able to explore ‘value-chain’ opportunities rather than persevere with the ‘supply-chain’ model. But the prevailing sentiment was one of concern for the future of entire communities if soaking rains do not eventuate in time to replenish storages before the new irrigation year.

In the case of the Riverland, there is a view that the broader communities of towns in our region remain unaware of the likely impact of restricted water allocations throughout the Basin in the 2020-21 growing season. Members expressed concerns that it’s not just the economic, environmental and social impacts of a downturn in winegrape supply, but downturns in almonds, citrus, summer fruits and avocadoes as well. The combined impact on our region would seriously threaten the economy. Add to that the possibility of a fourth consecutive dry year for the broadacre farming community and it makes for a grim outlook.

Now we can put on a brave face and reassure ourselves ‘it will rain’, or we can come together and help our policy makers to act more decisively in anticipation of another tough year. ‘Hazard reduction’ has had a good run in the recent and tragic bushfire commentaries. Regrets about not having taken enough action to reduce fire hazards have been expressed, over and over. The Almond Board came out in the middle of last year and called for all Basin States to implement a moratorium on further plantings and issuing of licences, at least until a clear assessment of crops to water can be undertaken. That’s just one aspect of ‘hazard reduction’ that could be implemented if policy makers really want to mitigate against ‘future shock’.

But coming back to winegrapes; winegrowers know that short-sighted policy over recent decades has suppressed the real value of the grapes and wine produced in the three inland regions. Winegrowers simply cannot compete for available water. Moreover, present policy provides for investors, not connected to primary production or rural communities, to buy and sell water as a tradeable commodity making water markets even more challenging for those who create strong communities, employment in towns as well as on-farm and in export markets. It’s the farmer communities that cause towns to prosper with schools, hospitals, retail and community services.

The call of the winegrowers was for a strong focus on greater knowledge and methods to support best practice in farming, more assertiveness in branding our region and our products and working with all commodities to influence better, more flexible policies, keep the MD Plan on track and mitigate against the harms of overdevelopment.

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