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Developing irrigated agriculture in southern Victoria

Phase 3 of the Southern Victoria Irrigation Development project investigated infrastructure options that could expand irrigated agriculture in two regions in central Gippsland.

A willingness to invest in agriculture is currently strong in Victoria’s central Gippsland region, given high demand for quality food supply, low interest rates, good access to markets and the natural resources of the area.

Access to additional water supplies will be a key component in enabling this development, and it is important to consider the value of irrigation to secure/increase food production in the context of a drying climate.

The regional development and employment resulting from irrigation development is critical to central Gippsland given the closing of local coal mines and power stations and the need for industry transition. There is also potential to build on the significant investment in irrigation modernisation in the neighbouring Macalister Irrigation District (MID).

About this project

The Southern Victoria Irrigation Development (SVID) project is investigating infrastructure options that could expand irrigated agriculture in central Gippsland.

Phase 3 of the SVID project built on work undertaken by Southern Rural Water in 2017 and 2018, which you can read more about here.

The Victorian Government provided funding for Phase 3 of the project which investigated infrastructure options to enable irrigation development in two study areas – along the Latrobe River from Yallourn to Longford, and east of the Avon River near Llowalong.

RMCG reviewed previous findings from the project, conducted pre-feasibility assessments and detailed customer water demand assessments to deliver a consolidated report of key findings for Phase 3. Click here to read the full report.

In collaboration with professional services company GHD, RMCG investigated infrastructure options including water availability, environmental, cultural, demand and willingness-to-pay assessments, stakeholder consultation, concept design and economic analysis.

The two study areas have been shown to be economically feasible zones for future development of irrigation, with more work now required to further develop the initial concept design and consider access to available water.

The draft Central and Gippsland Sustainable Water Strategy includes Proposed direction 10-9: The Victorian Government proposes to work with Southern Rural Water to identify the next steps for the Latrobe River focus area and the Avon River focus area, which could include consideration of available water sources and development of detailed business cases for infrastructure.

Map of the study area for irrigated agriculture for Phase 3 of the Southern Victoria Irrigation Development project

Economic analysis in focus

The economic analysis of the proposed investments included a cost-benefit analysis, input-output modelling and assessment of implications for local employment.

The cost-benefit analysis found that the two study areas are economically feasible for future development of irrigation. While securing vegetable growers will significantly increase the economic returns, vegetable production is not necessary to create a viable scheme – given sufficient development intensity, dairy and beef production provide enough benefits.

The bulk of additional employment is expected to be created through vegetable cultivation (which is much more labour-intensive than dairy and beef farming) and flow-on employment within transport companies and fertiliser producers, among others. A significant proportion of the additional employment would be casual and contract-type work such as vegetable picking. Overseas labour is preferred for casual and contract work and, when available, is likely to fill the employment gap, particularly for picker jobs.

The extent to which the local workforce is likely to take advantage of these employment opportunities was assessed. The contraction of hospitality and tourism industries due to COVID-19 is likely to result in an abundance of temporary and casual local labour in the near future, which presents an opportunity for agriculture. However, the ageing population will work in the opposite direction, decreasing the size of the workforce.

The creation of employment in agricultural businesses will stimulate flow on employment in the regional economy. This includes employment in the upstream supply chain, and employment that results from expenditure by employees, a proportion of which is captured in the local economy.

More information

Please visit the Southern Rural Water website for more information and to access the full report.

For further information please contact Anna Kelliher on 0427 859 129 or annak@rmcg.com.au.

Team

Anna Kelliher

Anna Kelliher

Managing Principal

BA, BE (Hons), GAICD

Anna is an environmental engineer with 20 years’ experience in water and catchment management. She specialises in recycled water planning, irrigation modernisation, land capability assessment, environmental risk assessment and catchment condition reporting. Anna has experience working with industry, government, farmers and the community, and has developed sound teamwork, communication and project management skills.

Carl Larsen

Carl Larsen

Associate

B.Env.Sci., B.Soc.Sci. (Env.), PG.Cert.CCPI.

Carl is a socio-environmental scientist with over 10 years’ experience in planning, delivery and evaluation of agriculture and natural resource management programs, integrated water management, climate change and stakeholder engagement. He understands the practical implications of policy and science on communities and agriculture. Carl has worked with a range of government departments, resource management agencies, research and development corporations, private organisations and communities around Australia on catchment management, sustainable water use, resource management in agriculture/horticulture, land use, climate change, strategic planning, industry development, extension and practice change.

Will Henderson

Will Henderson

Senior Consultant

B.A., Grad.Dip.Eco., M.Eco.

Will has a background in sociology and economics and has expertise in social research, and economic analysis. He has worked in a broad range of areas, including agriculture, regional economic development, tourism and insurance. Will believes it is important to understand the social context of economic problems, and specialises in combining data and anecdotal evidence to generate insights and help make decisions.

Nick Beresnev

Nick Beresnev

Consultant

B.A., B.Comm., M.Env.Sci. & Policy

Nick has over 15 years’ experience in Australia and internationally as an economist, project manager and policy advisor, with a focus on natural resource management, climate change, agriculture, forestry, energy, water and international trade.

He has expertise in project- and industry-level economic analysis in a range of sectors as well as extensive experience in project design (including monitoring frameworks, work plans and budgets), primary and secondary research (including survey design and community consultation) and stakeholder management at a government and private sector level.

Nick has excellent communication skills, covering technical publications, monitoring reports and policy briefs.

Kelly Ross

Kelly Ross

Consultant

B.Env.Sc., B.Soc.Sc. (Env.), M.App.Sc. (GIS)

Kelly has recently joined RMCG as a Project Officer – GIS and Cartography. She is a specialist in the preparation of maps to support consultants working in a wide range of fields including land use planning, natural resource and water management, agriculture and regional development.

During her previous employment at Rapid Map Services Kelly used specialised programs to develop, verify and maintain spatial data sets for local councils throughout Australia. These data sets included parks and open space assets, storm water drainage, signage and footpath surveys. Kelly also worked with Zoos Victoria to help develop and maintain a GIS data set at three different zoo locations. This enabled Zoo’s Victoria develop and better manage their GIS data so they were able to understand how many assets they have and how to manage them more efficiently.

Rebecca Schwarzman

Rebecca Schwarzman

Consultant

B.Sci. (Hons)

Bec is a skilled geographer and environmental scientist with a background in water, natural resource management and regional development.

She has made important contributions to catchment and water management, salinity, compost use in agriculture and bushfire planning and management at RMCG. She works on projects with a focus on strategic planning, program evaluation and social and environmental research, primarily for government agencies.

Bec has well developed project management skills and has a practical and resourceful style. She is a highly capable writer and problem solver.

 

Clinton Muller

Clinton Muller

Senior Consultant

M.Sust.Ag., B.Bus. (Hons), B.A.

Clinton has extensive experience in sustainable agriculture, with a specialist focus on horticulture and intensive production systems. With a strong agricultural industry focus, Clinton has worked across a range of agricultural commodities and natural resource management issues in Australia and internationally.  Clinton’s diverse range of capacities including program design and management, stakeholder engagement, partnership management, monitoring evaluation and reporting, extension, facilitation, action research and science communication.

CJ Wilkens

CJ Wilkens

Consultant

B.Sci (Biochemistry-Molecular Biology), M.Env.

CJ has a keen interest in the combination of production systems, sustainable land management, urban agriculture in peri-urban landscapes, agroforestry, and the intersection of technological innovation and NRM. He has specific detailed knowledge of soil science and horticulture as well as experience in lab and fieldwork in both disciplines. These skills primarily intersect and apply to sustainable land management, environmental impact assessment, and broader scientific analysis of natural systems.

 

George Warne

George Warne

Associate

B.Building

George is recognised as a leader in the rural water sector. After ten years in the commercial construction industry, George became the inaugural General Manager and CEO at Murray Irrigation from 1992 onwards, leading the reform processes in water management, environmental responsibility, infrastructure management and water service delivery in southern NSW. George has also been responsible for major change management within organisations whilst dealing with severe water shortages caused by droughts-of-record.