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Food bowl of the future?

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Written by SALLY EVANS.( Archived 19 Dec 08)

THE State Government has been challenged to support a concept for a new food bowl in the Ovens catchment.

The Rural City of Wangaratta, in a submission to the northern region sustainable water strategy, suggests the upper catchment is better placed to respond to climate change and reduced rainfall than other irrigation areas.

It has called for water entitlements to be reallocated upstream where they could be used more efficiently.

Rural city chief executive officer, Doug Sharp, tabled the response to the government’s draft water strategy on Monday night.

“As climate change takes effect, food production in downstream irrigation areas will be impacted,” he said.  “Upper catchments have the capacity to replace lost food production.”

Mr Sharp said the Ovens catchment could support a new food bowl on the basis of a relatively secure system and conducive climate, and by utilising water closest to its source.

“Where water is used close to the source, system losses are reduced and more efficient use of water results,” he said.

New and emerging opportunities, such as those associated with ex-tobacco land, were also identified.

The rural city has contested the strategy’s guiding principle of recognising existing rights and entitlements.

“It is the flexibility such as that proposed with the food bowl concept that this strategy should be encouraging, not preventing,” the submission reads.

Cr Paino

But it does also say that current rules restricting trade from the Ovens catchment need to remain to allow for security and environmental health of the catchment and river.

Councillor Roberto Paino said there was an abundance of good agricultural land in the local region, including former tobacco farms.

“I firmly believe the rural city does have a great future in agriculture,” he said.

Cr Griffiths

“I’d like to see our submission taken very seriously and (for government to) give us the flexibility to chase some of those things in the future.”

Although also supporting the submission, Cr Anthony Griffiths was realistic about efforts to secure more water for the rural city.

“As far as trying to utilise the water up here, the reality is that 50 per cent of the Murray Darling Basin’s water falls in the North East and in the Goulburn catchment, so there’s a lot of other people with dibs on our water,” he said.

“So we’re well and truly against the numbers in trying to get better utilisation of it.”


There is a lot of merit in turning the upper catchments into a food bowl.  As noted above. the porosity of the soil is such that, no matter how water much is used, all excess drains back into the catchment to be used again with no net loss to the ‘cap’ on the Murray-Darling system.

History has seen the upper catchments being a major part of the food bowl and it could be again.  Before dams were built, these upper catchments were our ‘food bowl’ because of the purity and security of the water.   With current planning prohibitions on protecting high grade agricultural land, it is a crime to see so much of it being under utilised.  The quality of foods produced in upper catchments, without the pollutants of prior use, must by cleaner and superior to that produced downstream of the dams and irrigation systems … and should be encouraged as our food supply is the very essence of life.

I wonder about the use of ex-tobacco land for food production with the potential of chemical contamination from the many years of application to the tobacco crops.  Having said that, I notice that one tobacco farmer in the King Valley is reported to be growing cabbage on contract to Coles supermarkets.  I also understand there are restrictions on growing beef cattle on ex-tobacco land yet there are none for dairy cattle.

I suppose that if the soil is contaminated, the runoff from that land back into the catchment would be carried downstream to the irrigation areas with contaminated produce from those areas.

As it stands with grazing in the upper catchment areas, there is strong evidence of excessive e-coli counts in the KIng River as far upstream as Whirfield.  If this land was converted to ‘food bowl’ cropping, that is one contaminant that would not be a problem further downstream where communities rely on the rivers for their drinking water supplies (e.g. Wangaratta).

We cannot change the mistakes of the past, but we do owe it to future generations to limit the environmental damage into the future.  Converting the upper catchments from animal farming to ‘food bowl’ cropping is one such measure and the RCoW should be encouraged in their endeavours to better utilise our resources.


Written by Greg Naylor

20 December 2008 at 12:00 am

Posted in social comment

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