Agricultural Innovation Working Group for Orbost and District

The Future of Orbost and District Project innovation working group for agriculture met again in March in their role to unearth innovation opportunities for the district. The group is made up of 20-30 dedicated members who are drawn from industry, government, academia and community. The group have established a great rapport from the get-go and are working hard on behalf of the agriculture sector of our district.

The first topic that the group are working on is around water for agriculture in the Orbost district. A number of meetings with water stakeholders have been undertaken including Southern Rural Water and the East Gippsland Catchment Management Authority. The peaks and throughs of water availability for farming in the district is an identified challenge and so underpinning the work of the group so far has been around getting the facts on the table in regards to irrigation water availability.

The working group were fortunate to have the Australian Business Volunteers organisation provide the expertise of a water consultant to prepare a water study on our district. As the report details, there are two sources of water for irrigation in the district, surface water from the Snowy River and groundwater extracted from the Orbost ground water management system. In the water study it highlighted that there are 52 licences for extraction from the Snowy River with a total licenced volume of 3,763 ML. Over the five-year period from 2015-16 to 2019-20 the maximum volume extracted was 1,434 ML with the average being 900 ML a year. A similar pattern has occurred with groundwater usage with 4 licences with a maximum licenced volume of 1,217 ML with the total volume extracted highest in 2018-19 at 545 ML with an average of 288 ML over the five-year period.

What these figures tell us is that during the five-year period in some seasons sufficient rainfall may have meant that the expenses of pumping water for irrigation was not justified and in other seasons not all irrigators decided to use their full allocation.

The working group have taken the knowledge around current water usage for irrigation, researched storage opportunities and the rules of trading water in the district and are proposing to conduct a study with local farmers into their current and future irrigation needs. Working group members are conducting interviews with a cross section of the districts farmers during April and we would welcome further contributions. You can contact the working group if you would like to line up an interview time to discuss irrigation for agriculture using the contact form below.

Further to the investigative work around the irrigation situation in the district, the working group are beginning to plan for some local seminars focusing on water literacy. The local sessions would bring together the districts farmers alongside key water stakeholders to get the facts on the table, bust some myths and look into future options and opportunities. Further information on these session will be provided over the coming weeks.

The innovation working group for agriculture are ambitious in their current work plan and with the water research and proposed water literacy work already in motion they are also preparing to conduct research into the local dairy industry. Project Manager Tim Cotter will be meeting with a number of the regions dairy farmers over the coming weeks with on farm discussions taking place to explore innovation potential within the local dairy sector. Technology, herd and pasture management, breeding, genetics and value add opportunities are all potential areas of innovation within the dairy sector in Orbost and district. The 30 dairy farms that make up our local vibrant sector are perhaps overlooked in terms of their impact on the regions economy and output.