Riverina Regional Development Board. Griffith. NSW 2680
The Riverina Regional Development Board was established in 1990 by the New South Wales Government and is charged with the responsibility of encouraging growth and development of industry and commerce in the region.
The region is centred on the Murrumbidgee River and covers some 14 local government areas.
The river is the main natural resource of the region, which draws water from its catchments in the mountains, but is also supplemented by water diverted from the eastern slopes of the Great Dividing Range via the Snowy Mountains Scheme.
This combination provides one of the most reliable supplies of good quality water in Australia and it is this factor that has enabled the development of intensive irrigation areas centred on Griffith in the western Riverina.
Economically, the region is based on agricultural production from grazing, grain, fruit, vegetables and timber.
• The region produces 25% of the State's fruit and vegetables
• The irrigation local government areas produce 64% of all crops and 49% of agricultural commodities in the region
• Agriculture represents 20% of the regional economy compared with the State average of 5%
• Wool is the single most important agricultural commodity, representing 34% of total production
• Manufacturing output is low (9% compared with State average of 15%) and of that output 86% is based on food, timber and paper products.
The Board's first priority was the completion of a Regional Economic Development Strategy. This strategy was based upon considerable research and community consultation. The process included the design and distribution of questionnaires to 200 organisations, business groups, government departments, industries and local government. Community forums were held in several centres throughout the Riverina with specific working parties on development opportunities, and a vision-setting conference. The Regional Development Strategy is based on five separate sub-strategies, each contributing to the vision of a secure economic structure based on the diversity of natural assets which the region can offer.
It is the year 2001 and the Riverina Region is known widely as "The Pure Foods Centre of Australia".
Simon Crean is reflecting part of our nation's future, when he says:
"Overseas customers are becoming increasingly concerned about the quality of food which they consume. They are particularly concerned about toxic waste, acid rain, nuclear radiation, pesticide and herbicide residue.
"In contrast, Australia's image of clean open spaces with low ambient pollution can be built upon through an export promotion program, enhancing Australia's reputation as a supplier of clean, safe food."
The Riverina, as one of Australia's premier agricultural regions, is ideally situated to maximise the emerging world market. However, as a nation I believe we must realise our future is linked to the Asian markets of the north, not Europe or the Americas. As we are all aware, Asia is one of the fastest growing markets in the world and Australia must take its place there otherwise we risk becoming the nobodies of the Asia-Pacific rim.
We have all heard of the demands of this market for quality, freshness and pureness. We, as a region and as a nation, must meet these demands.
So how can the Riverina region take advantage of this market?
1. We are already a major food producing area, growing a wide range of agricultural products.
2. The irrigation areas of the western Riverina have the essential ingredients for agriculture, i.e.
- sunshine - summers hot and dry are perfect for growing food crops
- water - irrigation - reliable supply
- land - suitable for development for irrigation purposes
- people skilled in intensive broadacre irrigation practices
3. There is an emerging processing/manufacturing base of raw agricultural products. Value-adding will continue to occur and this will provide a more secure economic base to give the region a sustainable, competitive advantage.
We need only to look at the wine industry of the Riverina and how it has taken on the traditional European markets and built strong export programs. Anthony Parle, who now supplies McDonalds Australia with processed gherkin slices for the Big Macs, is one farmer who became tired of just growing a commodity and receiving commodity prices.
He is now a manufacturer and processor and is not subject to the vagaries of selling commodities.
4 We are centrally located to the ports of Melbourne and Sydney, with a well developed land transport system link.
5 However, if we are to tap the fresh market of the region we require an international airport to airfreight products to overseas markets. This, I believe, is essential and Griffith City Council has, in conjunction with the country centres project, already undertaken a pre-feasibility study. However, the ultimate stumbling block will be funding and the lack of clear vision by our government.
6 There exists in the region a number of world class research institutions such as:
• NSW Agriculture, undertaking research into wheat, rice and horticulture;
• CSIRO Division of Water Resources at Griffith, undertaking world-class research in irrigation and land degradation;
• Charles Sturt University, undertaking research into agriculture, and will shortly commence construction of a new NATA-registered laboratory which will play a leading role for companies to ensure non-contamination of products. This area of research needs to be expanded, hence the region's bid for the relocation of the CSIRO Division of Food Processing to the Riverina, a major food processing area.
I have alluded to the demands of the Asian market for quality, freshness and pureness, and our need to meet these demands.
This will mean a change in practices to produce products that meet market specifications and lead to sustainable agriculture, but this does not necessarily imply organic grading.
Changes in agriculture are already occurring and one example will be detailed by Stuart McGrath-Kerr of the Wine Grapes Marketing Board on new practices introduced for the growing of grapes.
Within the citrus industry we are seeing the use of wasps to control pests instead of applying a chemical.
Sustainable agriculture, conservation farming, is here to stay and this is reflected in the establishment of various Landcare, Total Catchment Management, and Water Watch groups across the region.
So how do we, as a region, promote ourselves?
The National Food Authority uses the word "pure" to denote food of only one ingredient. I would suggest, given the wide range of crops grown and their value, we are the Pure Food Growing Centre of Australia.
Therefore, geographically we can be known as the Pure Food Centre, but for mixed and processed products we could attach a rider such as "From the Riverina, Naturally" or, for example, "Riverina Fresh" which is being used by the Murrumbidgee Dairy Company and the citrus people of the western Riverina. We also see on Bartters' trucks taking chickens and eggs to the markets "Fresh from the Grain Fields of the Riverina".
The Riverina Regional Development Board will shortly be appointing consultants to develop an appropriate market promotion strategy for the region as the Pure Food Centre. We will require close cooperation with producers, processors, government departments and local government from across the region. The region and the Board will have control over the use of the name and will set appropriate criteria. We need to ensure that local product meets market criteria for quality, freshness and cleanliness. This is why the role of producers and others is so important.
There will continue to be a market demand for accredited organic or chemical-free products. This must be met and satisfied. I see a diverse range of agriculture across the region.
We are not alone in our thinking - the Sunraysia Daily on 6 August 1992 announced a $40,000 clean food strategy.
It would appear that a major retailer who trades and prides himself on being the fresh food people has supported the strategy with a $10,000 grant. Our region's future is undeniably linked to agriculture and we must ensure that we are well placed to service the future markets and their demands. The region must work towards one common goal, which is the prosperity and sustainability of the region. The challenge is therefore boldness, commitment and vision.