Opinion

Broccoli is our next big thing

By Country News

‘‘Greater Shepparton is a place where business is growing, and the emerging success story is horticulture.’’

Charles Wooley’s mellifluous tones spoke these words to conclude the latest iteration of the Great Thing Happen Here video, which was played to 1500 Australian horticultural industry leaders, gathered in the Crown Palladium for the gala dinner of the National Horticulture Convention.

Having all those influencers together and attentive, we took it as an opportunity to sell the idea of moving horticultural business to Greater Shepparton.

By ‘we’ I refer to the Committee for Greater Shepparton, Greater Shepparton City Council and Goulburn-Murray Water.

In a spirit of the new co-operation that is aiming to drive the region forward, a pitch was made that the Goulburn Valley has cheaper, more fertile land and more secure, clean water than many of the existing locations where horticultural crops, particularly vegetables, are grown.

Of course, a sales pitch benefits from a testimonial, and Catherine Velisha from Velisha Farms spoke on the video, about how she has successfully expanded her broccoli and cauliflower business from Werribee to Greater Shepparton.

So far so good; broccoli yield and quality in this part of the world is excellent.

It follows on from some successful growing operations on old pear orchard land in Shepparton East.

The key thing is, broccoli and many of the other Werribee vegetable crops, are grown year-round.

They are suitable in our region through the autumn/winter period, and the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District scheme was originally set up to irrigate summer crops – fruit trees and permanent dairy pastures.

Goulburn-Murray Water has been proactive on this point – while they can’t guarantee everyone across the entire system winter water, they have been negotiating out-of-season water delivery agreements with those, including Velisha Farms, who have winter cropping needs and are in a geographical location where the logistics make the delivery possible.

As all who observe weather patterns in this area would understand, winter rainfall is not as reliable as it used to be.

Why the sales pitch for more horticulture?

We need to keep our agricultural economy driving forward, and as irrigation water prices increase, it will be traded to high value crops.

If we don’t attract these high value crops to the region and diversify our agriculture, we can’t attract the water back.

This is not to say we are not all working to ensure a profitable future for the dairy industry, lower water prices and more supply.

But if we are reliant on fewer agricultural industries that could retract in years of high water prices, our overall economy suffers.

If you are a vegetable producer in areas close to Melbourne, the challenges are many.

Agriculture is butting up against urban expansion – and this is never easy.

Tractors and cars are sharing narrow lanes, water quality is variable and spray drift can be an issue for some new residents; not unlike the person who buys an apartment next to the Espy in St Kilda and complains about the noise from the live music.

Werribee will always be a vegetable growing location, but opportunities for expansion are limited, and demand for quality vegetable products is growing.

The story is similar around other outer Melbourne farm enclaves.

Greater Shepparton offers scale, and at a reasonable price.

The Epping market is only 90 minutes away and year-round water delivery is possible.

Along with apples, pears, peaches and milk, Greater Shepparton could become the ‘broccoli capital’ of Australia.

You can view the Great Things Happen Here video at: greatthings.com.au

Click on the ‘horticulture prospectus’ icon.

—Sam Birrell

chief executive

Committee for Greater Shepparton