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Riverland rallies to get industry back on track

In May last year the Riverland Winegrape Growers’ Association organised a ‘Riverland solutions rally’ at Berri, South Australia, to reinforce and widen an awareness of a continuing downward trend in the region’s economy and a consequential decline in community aspirations and personal health.

The nature of the rally, coupled with widespread promotion of it, resulted in virtually a whole-of-community representation, including winegrape and citrus growers, farmers, general business, families and government. The SA Government committed to help in material ways and the Federal Government contributed $60,000.

The outcome of the rally was a direction by the State Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Rory McEwen, at the request of the Minister for the River Murray, Karlene Maywald, that a socioeconomic study be undertaken, a direct involvement by the SA Government. A Social and Economic Impact Steering Committee was formed in August, three months after the Berri rally, and in April this year presented a report on the economic and social impacts of key industries on the Riverland. The study, supported by the Federal and State Governments, involved Primary Industries and Resources SA, the University of SA and consultants PKF.

The Riverland’s economy and prospects are examined in depth and at length from virtually every perspective as is the effect on and the views of the people who live and work there. Recommendations are made for dealing with eight specific issues: financial assistance for comprehensive, tailored business management for growers is recommended, among other measures.

Promotion of improved irrigation infrastructure in the Riverland by the SA and Federal Governments is recommended, with tiered water pricing incentives to help growers improve irrigation efficiencies. The SA Government should pursue adoption of registers for a national information base of plantings to improve decision making, among other measures. Develop a mandatory code of conduct for processors and producers to improve contractual arrangements. The SA Government provide customised financial and business strategies to enable growers to be informed about continuing or exiting their industry, among other measures.

The issue of mental health produced several recommendations, including that the first line of intervention be through general practitioners and that incentives be provided to attract and retain a medical workforce. Planning, targeting and publicising is recommended for a ‘Brand Riverland’ strategy and regional success stories.

Because of a projected State and regional income loss between 2006 and 2010 of at least $400 million, intervention is recommended to establish and implement an industry diversification strategy. The existing State Strategic Plan must now include an investment attraction strategy for the Riverland.

The man behind the organisation of the rally that resulted in what is now a detailed strategy to rescue the Riverland from its decline is Riverland Winegrape Growers’ Association executive officer Chris Byrne.

“Our intention is to have a close association with government and our view is that if you get the economics right then the social problems are not so prevalent,” Byrne said.

“If the economics are wrong then it leads to an upturn in the need for mental health services.”

Working in partnership with government is behind Byrne’s professional strategy, which has already happened with the socioeconomic study, and now his association has the services of a full time research officer as well.

As seen in the August issue of Grapegrower & Winemaker

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