Agriculture no longer the way to go?

At last week’s G20 meeting, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd declared the U.S city of Pittsburgh as a prime example of a place that successfully reinvented itself in response failing industries.  

tractor in feild It is an idea that La Trobe University academic Larry O’Connor has had for some time. He says that the Sunraysia area in northern Victoria, should ‘follow in the steps’ of Pittsburgh, and ‘rethink its reliance’ on its agricultural industry if it is to remain sustainable.

 ‘It could be that now is the time for revolutionary change,’ Mr O’Connor says.

An accounting lecturer at for La Trobe University’s Regional School of Business in Mildura, Mr O’Conner  suggests the region must consider moving away from fruit growing towards other light and heavy industries that aren’t reliant on water.

‘Many viticulturalists have moved from flood irrigation to drippers. They now have greater water efficiency which in turn has meant better productivity. But this is just an eco-efficiency measure but it has already been be overwhelmed by the growth in demand upon our water sources,’ Mr O’Connor says, and cites mass plantation of vine grapes as a prime example.

‘Individual blocks are more efficient but this is more than offset by a greater demand for water to be used for irrigation.’  

 ‘Naturally we look in the confines of our existing environment for our future, but we need to start looking outside the square.’

Mr O’Connor is adamant that most government policy is aimed at treating symptoms rather than underlying causes, especially in water allocation, and he argues that communities are confined to search for answers only within the environments they know.

‘As a community, we need to look beyond industries that have been typically bread and butter to this region. We need to alternatives that aren’t water dependant,’ says Mr O’Connor.

He also suggests that Mildura could fulfill its geographical potential and prosper more by using the existing transport hub between Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, to foster light and heavy industry in the region.

Mr O’Connor, who recently returned from 12 week sabbatical at Portland State University in the U.S, believes the process will be a 20 year transformation and argues that state and federal help will be needed.

 ‘For new industry to emerge, there will need to be incentives and initiatives for people who to agree to re-locate to certain areas, and tax and rate exceptions for the life of the business,’ he says.

‘We need to think through the social ramifications of the changes, however I believe these will be offset by new opportunities that could be created.’  

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