Farmers rally to start taking control of their water future

By Sophie Baldwin

A GROUP of innovative dairy farmers looking for a solution to retaining water and wealth in the Torrumbarry irrigation district are in the process of establishing a water platform to benefit both local investors and irrigators.

The group, Gannawarra Water Guardians, are looking at a long-term solution for water security in the Cohuna area where retiring farmers, business owners or anyone with a water entitlement (lessor) can put part of, or all of their entitlement onto the platform, to be leased by active irrigators (lessee) within the Torrumbarry zone.

Lessors will receive an annual dividend for their water.

The lessee will have access to reasonably priced water over a three to five-year leasing term to mitigate business risk, with the idea the wealth generated by irrigation, stays in the local community instead of lining the pockets of corporate investors in another state.

The group have been working on this concept since last year and have received funding and help from Murray Dairy and a local philanthropic organisation.

Committee member Skeeta Verhey said water has long been looked at as a problem just for farmers but the reality is, it’s a whole community issue especially in towns like Cohuna or Koondrook who are reliant on irrigation.

“If we don’t do something about water our communities simply are not viable.

“Water and irrigation underpins the success of us all - from agriculture to local business, schools, hospitals and our sporting clubs. If we want to survive and have thriving communities we need water security and a change in thinking about how to achieve it,” Mr Verhey said.

Cohuna dairy farmer and committee members Steve and Margot Henty are approaching retirement.

They want to see their town remain vibrant and retain its services.

“We own water and are nearing retirement. We can either sell it and the water leaves the district, or we can put some or all of it onto the platform so farmers without water can access it and remain in the area generating an economy,” Mr Henty said.

Mr Henty said the government have spent billions of dollars investing in irrigation infrastructure and there is a real danger the system could become too expensive to run if water continues to leave the district.

“We then run the risk of people leaving, our services following and then all of a sudden we have to travel to Echuca to go to the doctors or hospital,’’ Mr Henty said.

“Not only do investors receive a financial dividend, they also receive a social dividend because this type of platform will support the local community,” Mrs Henty said.

Mr Verhey said the concept has been well received amongst irrigators.

“The platform can only be used by irrigators to purchase a third of their annual water requirements to help cut pricing risk (the idea being the platform combines with temporary water purchases and or water ownership),” he said.

The group are looking at leasing terms of three to five years with a cash flow friendly scenario of payments over a 12-month period.

“One of the major problems we come across is paying large sums for water up front. We think this will help support new people into the industry while helping to encourage others to remain,” Mr Verhey said.

Managing director of Mawsons, John Mawson is supporting the initiative.

“It is encouraging for both farmers and business owners because the viability of the region and job security along the Murray Valley depends on irrigation. Coming together to assist with water supply for dairy farmers in tough times helps protects the diversity of irrigation, and by diversity I mean other industries supported by irrigation including dairy, olives, grapes, almonds and in good season rice and cotton,” Mr Mawson said.

Murray Dairy chief executive officer Jenny Wilson said local community leadership driving local community solutions is critically important.

“Murray Dairy plays an important role in supporting networks with information and access to expertise. We recognise that dairy farmers are looking for options to manage their water portfolio. This project, along with investment in tools such as the water trading toolkit and the recently released water video series, as well as our recent Water in Focus events, are important activities to support our farming communities,” Ms Wilson said.

For more information contact Skeeta Verhey 0429 408 708