Grants totalling more than $100 million will flow to almost 100 South Australian River Murray irrigation and industry projects.

This includes projects such as $12.7 million to replant an existing production area with new crops and a new irrigation system, $5.2 million for a new onion and potato farm to supply a national supermarket chain, and a $2.2 million project to convert a disused almond orchard into an irrigated lucerne hay business. 

The grants are being made through the Australian Government-funded $240 million South Australian River Murray Sustainability Irrigation Industry Improvement Program (3IP), and the projects will return about half the water required under the programs 40-gigalitre target for water recovery.

Premier Jay Weatherill said the program is recognition and reward for decades of efficient water use by South Australia’s River Murray irrigators.

“South Australia’s River Murray irrigators have led the nation in water efficiency. From capping their take from the River in the 1960s, to upgrading their irrigation systems during the 1980s and 1990s, our irrigators continue to be at the forefront of efficient production and protecting the health of the River Murray.

“The impact of the 3IP investment will be felt by all businesses in the regions along the river, from irrigation designers and installers to shop owners and hoteliers.

“State Cabinet visited the Riverland last month and heard just how important these grants will be for River communities.”

Federal Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, Senator Simon Birmingham, said the 3IP is part of the $265 million South Australian River Murray Sustainability Program (SARMS) developed to help deliver South Australian targets under the new Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

“The Abbott Government is committed to delivering the Basin Plan in full and on time, ensuring the health of the Murray-Darling Basin environment in ways that best support the economic future of river communities throughout the Basin.

“This Program is a good example of how we can recover water for the environment, while also giving a productive boost to communities in the Riverland.

“South Australia boasts many innovative and productive irrigators and every dollar of this Australian Government investment will promote economic growth, both on the farm and also in our regional towns.

“We expect that every dollar of 3IP investment will stimulate around four times this in economic activity across the region, resulting in around $1 billion of economic activity from the total $265 million investment by the Federal Government,” he said.

“The Federal funding package is critical in helping South Australia’s River Murray irrigators to develop their businesses and make changes that will help South Australia deliver its water savings contributions under the Basin Plan.”

“The announcement of these successful projects today is tribute to the river communities and industry members who worked hard to ensure that this funding was secured.

Agriculture, Food and Fisheries Minister Leon Bignell said there had been strong interest for Round One of the Irrigation Industry Improvement Program, with more than 200 expressions of interest.

“The successful Round One projects range from small family farm redevelopments to large international-scale joint ventures, and include a number of innovative value-adding proposals,” he said.

“Some are for irrigation and business efficiencies, which will have an enormous impact on a small family business. Some are for proposals to change to new crops. Regardless of size and scope, all of them will have a great impact.

“The program has generated great excitement in River Murray communities, where businesses have always been innovative, and will now have greater scope to act on new opportunities.

“The program also demonstrates the Australian and State Governments’ ability to work with industry to achieve outcomes that support workers, create jobs, provide new opportunities for local businesses, and strengthen communities.”

Water Industry Alliance Chair Tim Waterhouse said the working relationship between industry and government in developing and negotiating SARMS was an exemplar in program development.

“This is why the first round of this funding has been so hugely successful, and why other States are now looking to this program as best practice in program development,” he said.

SARMS, which includes the $240 million 3IP and $25 million for regional economic development, was conceived through the Water Industry Alliance’s River Murray Improvements Program proposal and agreed as part of the Basin Plan package negotiated by the State Government. 

It’s expected that Round Two will open in the coming months.