Murray Valley growers eye viable exit option

Plans to include rural industry adjustment to a Sunraysia irrigation project could provide ‘trapped’ grapegrowers in the Murray Valley wine region with a way out.

Victoria’s Water Minister Peter Walsh recently announced the focus of the Sunraysia Modernisation Project would now include industry development and regional adjustment, as well as water savings.

The project, worth $103 million, was announced three years ago with the intention of upgrading irrigation systems in Mildura.

Murray Valley Winegrowers (MVWG) chief executive Mark McKenzie says a focus on rural adjustment could pave the way for a new viable exit option for struggling grapegrowers.

“This has given the opportunity to think about what the Victorian Government can do in terms of buying back smaller parcels of land and water, redeveloping and aggregating those areas with upgraded irrigation supply infrastructure and then reoffering those land and water parcels back to other horticultural industries,” McKenzie said.

The loss of the Exceptional Circumstances Exit Package, worth up to $150,000, combined with the fulfilment of the Victorian Government’s 4 per cent water trading cap on selling water out of the district has effectively ‘trapped’ grapegrowers from exiting the wine industry, McKenzie said.

 “The first thing is to recognise is that we don’t have very many options,” he said.

“Winegrape growers who are not in a position to continue are trapped. They can’t sell water, can’t get support – they’re sitting there not being able to afford to grow a crop they can’t leave.”

McKenzie has been in discussions with the Department of Primary Industries and Water Minister Peter Walsh about adjustment issues since July this year.

The full version of this story features in the November issue of the Grapegrower & Winemaker, out soon.

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