Growing the value of Tasmanian agriculture

08 January 2024

Farming communities in Tasmania’s north west are celebrating the official opening of the Don Irrigation Scheme, which is supporting the sustainable growth of agricultural businesses and communities.

Tasmanian Irrigation Board Chair Kate Vinot said the $54.4 million scheme is providing farmers in the Don, Forth, Barrington and Sheffield districts with access to nearly 5,000 megalitres per season of high-reliability irrigation water. “The Don Irrigation Scheme is delivering high-surety water, which gives local irrigators the confidence to invest in their farming businesses, including conversion to higher-value enterprises,” Ms Vinot said.

“This will increase the productivity of agricultural activity in the region and deliver broader benefits across the local and State economies. Because investing in irrigation infrastructure is about more than supporting farming. “When we ensure a sustainable future for agriculture, we build resilience in the wider community. When farms prosper, jobs are created, small businesses that supply farms do well, families move into or have a reason to stay in communities, social infrastructure is maintained and expanded, and communities thrive.” The Don Irrigation Scheme is the first delivered under Tasmanian Irrigation’s Tranche Three program. “Continued investment in the development of the irrigation schemes identified under the Tranche Three program will sustainably improve both the performance and efficiency of existing irrigation, and the productive capacity of the agricultural sector,” said Tasmanian Irrigation CEO Andrew Kneebone.

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Tasmanian Irrigation has now built 16 irrigation schemes across Tasmania, which are making water available where and when it’s needed. The schemes are developed in a unique funding model of co-investment by the Australian and Tasmanian Governments and irrigators.
“These important infrastructure projects must have champions, and the delivery of the Don Scheme is very much due to the advocacy of farmers in the district, including Melina Burbury, Michael Badcock and Neil Armstrong. Without their effort's this scheme would not have gotten off the ground.” Michael Badcock is a sixth-generation farmer and Chair of the Don Irrigator Representative Committee.“It used to be a gamble whether it would rain in any given year and whether we’d have enough water to finish crops. It was a survival game at best,” Mr Badcock said.

“Now, farmers can plan crops with confidence. That increases the value of individual farming operations and also has a flow-on effect to local communities and the wider economy in terms of job creation and attracting new industries, such as vegetable processing.
“The change I’ve seen in my lifetime is the confidence that comes with access to reliable water. Tasmanian Irrigation can get this happening on a scale that is beyond individual farms or even cooperative ventures.” The Don Irrigation Scheme, and others to be delivered under the Tranche Three program, will also help to increase Tasmania’s drought resilience, and support farmers to continue to adapt to the changing climate.
“As we move into a period of greater challenge and uncertainty in terms of climate variability, our farmers need a high level of confidence around access to irrigation water,” said Ms Vinot.

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“As summer begins, the impact of two key climate drivers is already being felt. The combination of an El Niño and a positive Indian Ocean Dipole has brought warmer and drier conditions for spring and summer. “These conditions are a reminder of the importance of irrigation in ensuring the resilience of the agricultural sector in the face of a changing climate.” Environmental protections are built into the Scheme through a requirement for irrigators to have a Farm Water Access Plan in place before they access water for irrigation.

The Farm Water Access Plan framework is administered by Tasmanian Irrigation and establishes clear guidelines for irrigation water use to minimise potential impact on soil, biodiversity and waterways. Tasmanian Irrigation thanks all landowners affected by the construction phase for their cooperation and patience during development of the Don Irrigation Scheme. We also thank contractors Hazell Bros and Fulton Hogan, who delivered construction of the project in collaboration with Tasmanian Irrigation. The Don Irrigation Scheme is funded by the Australian Government, the Tasmanian Government and local irrigators. Australian Government funding is provided through the National Water Grid Fund.