Water is one of the most valuable commodities in Australia. Australian Vignerons is well aware of the significant impact water prices and availability has on growers across the nation. In 2017 despite relatively good access to water (thanks to good rainfall in catchment areas), growers are still facing rising costs. Increasing electricity prices are having a significant impact on water prices. Now, more than ever, it is important that grape growers are represented in Canberra to ensure the right decisions are made.
To learn more about the politics of water, we spoke with the CEO of Central Irrigation Trust (CIT). CIT is responsible for running thirteen irrigation districts in South Australia stretching from the Victorian border to Murray Bridge. Their irrigation districts provide water to over 1200 farms, 3000 houses and 20 commercial operations. The total area their water supply covers is over 14,000 hectares.
Given the size and scale of their operation, the politics of water is a significant component of their role as an irrigation trust. Gavin McMahon, Central Irrigation Trust CEO explains, ‘Our primary water source is the Murray River and the decisions about the Murray Darling Basin are made in Canberra. It is important that we represent our customers, many of them wine grape growers, to ensure politicians understand the impact their decisions will have for our farmers.’
The future of water presents a significant challenge for growers. Understanding the complexities governing one of the key resources for grape growing will become even more important than ever before. Gavin says, ‘In recent years we have seen 30% of the water allocation from the Murray taken out of the consumption pool and returned to the environment. As water becomes scarcer, growers will need to be wise and use less of it.'
In 2017 not only have growers been faced with the ongoing challenges of water management but rising electricity costs. CIT is no exception to this and regrettably Gavin says growers are getting caught in the middle. ‘As you can imagine, CIT is a big energy user. Getting water from the river, to the farm and then out to the vines uses a lot of energy. As an organisation we are trying to cut electricity costs through a bulk buying group and other initiatives but inevitably we have to pass costs on to the growers. The worst part is that processors and wineries are also facing increased costs so their prices to producers is lower. Growers really are caught in the middle.’
The pressure this energy crisis is placing on growers has opened another avenue in which Australian Vignerons will be advocating for wine grape growers. Energy is the hot topic at the moment with debate raging in Canberra. Rest assured that Australian Vignerons has added its voice to the call for action.
So how can growers improve their water consumption and reduce costs? The good news is that there are plenty of innovative examples out there. Gavin says, ‘The almond industry is leading the way with innovative water use. They have done a lot of research that could be applied to the wine grape industry.’ Gavin suggests getting in touch with your local irrigation trust or supplier and find out water initiatives happening in your region.
The other important thing for growers is to gain a better understanding of water markets and the policies that govern water in Australia. Australian Vignerons plays a key role in water policy in Canberra. Along with the irrigation trusts, AV provides input to decision making to improve outcomes for grape growers. The key is filtering this information to growers.
Over the next few months Australian Vignerons will be working hard to distribute more water information to grape growers. Be sure to keep an eye as we investigate water policy in Australia and help grape growers gain a better understanding of their base resource.