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Help for grapegrowers to manage the water challenge

A new information program will be launched next week to help 5000 Murray Darling Basin grapegrowers survive what is expected to be one of the toughest summers in Australia’s history.

Water & Vine – Managing the Challenge, which will be launched on Monday August 18 in Adelaide, is part of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry’s Irrigation Industries Workshop Program, which is also helping horticulture, dairy, cotton and rice growers adapt to drought.

The Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation (GWRDC) will administer the winegrape program which will be rolled out over the next five months in NSW, Victoria and SA.

GWRDC General Manager Samantha Hellams said many growers in irrigated regions faced an uncertain future due to the extended drought and reduced River Murray flows.

“In the next few months growers will be informed of their water allocation for the 2008–2009 growing season,” Samantha said. “With water supply at critical levels there is every indication that this allocation will not increase from last year – and in some cases it may be less.

“Our role is to help growers make decisions about how they can manage their way through this crisis and remain viable.

“Research shows that it is possible to grow profitable crops on reduced water supplies but management systems must change. Growers need to know more about the exact water they need, how to access additional irrigation water and understand more about the allocation decision-making process.

“They also need to know about how to maintain the long term health of their vineyard.”

Samantha said a key element of the program is empowering growers to liaise more effectively with wineries and understand more about grape purchasing and pricing decisions, the influence of international markets, stock levels and competition.

“Having more knowledge about the market empowers growers to make more strategic decisions,” she said. “It’s quite possible that this lack of water could persist for a long time and growers may need to look at alternative business models or vineyard management strategies.”

A unique part of the program will be engaging regional grower liaison officers, industry development officers, viticultural consultants and agribusiness advisers across the entire Murray Darling Basin in an Innovators Network.

“In our research we found that growers are “workshopped out” and would prefer to receive this management information from trusted advisers,” Samantha said. “The Innovators Network will act as a conduit for information and help them in the decision-making and management process.

“The Innovators Network will be provided with free resources and the latest knowledge about drought management to help growers with critical viticultural and business management decisions. They will be trained in up to 11 drought management topics that have been developed for this project by the leading researchers, viticulturists and business managers in Australia.”

Samantha said it was envisaged that the Innovators Network will continue on after the Water&Vine program has finished, and be an ongoing delivery mechanism for technical information and tools for the Australian wine industry.

Water&Vine will be launched at the National Wine Centre, Dequetteville Terrace, Adelaide at 4.30pm on Monday August 18. Innovator Network workshops and grower briefings will be run in collaboration with regional grower associations in the key growing regions of the Murray Darling Basin – Riverina, Sunraysia, Riverland as well as the Barossa, Langhorne Creek and North East Victoria – during August, September and mid October.

For more information about Water&Vine contact the GWRDC Program Manager Mark Krstic on 0437 325 438 or email ">m.

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