January 25, 2010. The Riverland Winegrape Growers Association (RWGA) published a discussion paper entitled Riverland and Mallee – Primary Producers Business Centre.
The paper presented a concept that envisaged all primary producers across the region coming together to speak with a single voice. It noted that several previous endeavours to form effective coalitions for growers and farmers had not succeeded. The region’s producers had survived the worst drought across the Basin in recorded history. Commodity markets had been cruel. Many producers were in despair. The time seemed right for renewal; for the region’s wealth generators to stop getting older and poorer and pull together to re-establish priorities and prosperity for the whole community. The paper remarked on one of the region’s prized assets, the Loxton Research Centre and its surrounding farm of trial crops and how its resources were being depleted as an outcome of the overall decline in regional prosperity.
At that time, in January 2010, the RWGA offered an opinion that there seemed an opportunity for all irrigators and dry-land farmers to unite, to form a business centre to support each other, to strengthen research, extension, education and training capabilities; to lift productivity and efficiency and to provide a range of basic services including administration, laboratory facilities, financial and membership services. The paper recognised that collectively, the producers had much to offer but lacked the ability to advocate effectively and develop new pathways to success.
The concept caught on. There was a slow build-up of support from other groups and government agencies. In February 2012, the then (Federal) Minister for Regional Development Hon. Simon Crean, came to the region with an entourage of advisors. He sat down with a few grapegrowers, a winemaker, a dried fruit grower, a citrus grower, a grain farmer, a horticultural consultant and a keen proponent of Riverland business clusters.
The assembled producers presented a compelling argument to the Minister that the region’s wealth generators were poised to move to the next level of production excellence. The Minister was encouraged and impressed. He told the group that if the concept could be developed and implemented in this region it could become a template for regional development across the country.
But that was all back in 2010 and 2012. Since then State Government has announced great plans for the redevelopment of the Loxton Research Centre. Funding has been allocated as one of the outcomes of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan but there has been very little interest and even less commitment from the producer groups who it seems had and still have so much to gain. Perhaps it was not such a good idea?