On Wednesday this week, a meeting was convened in the superbly refurbished meeting room in the original Loxton Research Centre (LRC) building. It was reminiscent of the meetings between 2006 and 2011 when the Horticulture Reference Forum met in that same room to assist community and government throughout the drought challenge.
This week’s meeting included the Minister for Agriculture Tim Whetstone, Senator Anne Ruston in her last official engagement as Federal Assistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources. PIRSA Chief Executive, Scott Ashby was in attendance together with Mehdi Doroudi, PIRSA Deputy Chief Executive, representatives of the Federal Department of Agriculture from Canberra and delegates from most of the region’s horticulture groups. The core topic of the meeting was fruit fly and the key question: How can we all work together to maintain and extend this region’s fruit fly free status and how can this region lead a national program to eliminate the pests.
On any other day the same group could have assembled to deal with any number of other common issues such as: the MDB Plan, water allocations plans, the NRM Landscapes vision, spray drift control programs, automatic weather station networks, biosecurity programs, membership management and financial management systems, joint funding applications to attract State and Federal support, AgTech projects with research institutions, access to markets, regional representation on organised trade missions, free trade agreements and the list goes on and on.
Note the following is an excerpt from a discussion paper first presented eight years ago before the outcome of the MDB Plan and before the LRC was overhauled.
The Loxton Research Centre is at the hub of this concept. It is proposed that LRC becomes a Business Centre, showcasing partnership between industry and government.
All Primary Production Commodity Groups would be offered the opportunity to participate and will rank as primary beneficiaries.
Research, extension, education and training would feature prominently as outcomes of the revival and reassertion of the Riverland region as one of Australia’s leading primary production and processing zones.
The concept embraces the notion of partnership between all primary producer groups operating in the region and the South Australian Government. The goal is to work together to reinvigorate the LRC with the express purpose of establishing it as a Business Centre serving the regional community but with the potential to have far-reaching national and international connections, especially in the areas of education and extension. In due course the centre should be able to operate on a user pays basis.
The primary driver is the often stated need on the part of all producer groups and service providers to have a common forum in which to debate matters of common interest, to develop, adopt and proclaim a Riverland position and even to draft policy where appropriate on regional, state and federal matters where there is an agreed need for well structured, well researched regional input.
The secondary and obvious driver is that in its present form, the LRC has significant resource capability and much potential. Without a plan and without a reasonable funding commitment from the community of primary producers and government, it seems inevitable that its decline will continue; like other regional infrastructure assets, it will be threatened with extinction. On the other hand an appropriate Partnership Plan will arrest the decline and provide a hub for the revival of Riverland primary production.
As grapes and wine recover the lost ground of the past decade, rejoining the ranks of almonds, summer fruits, broadacre and citrus as key wealth generators for the region, the time could not be better for the region’s producers to unite and develop a strategy and a business plan that could serve as a model for regional representation throughout the country.
Who will make the first move?