Creating opportunities for the next generation

Anna Turnbull

Toolamba fruit grower Peter Hall believes future primary producers have been gifted an opportunity.

“In my mind the Connections Project, presents the next generation in our region a world class irrigation system,” Peter said.

“It’s comparable to any other system in the world. It provides a sustainable, deliverable resource on tap for agribusiness use.”

The 56-year-old orchardist and father of three, who teaches physics part-time to secondary students, holds rare insight into the value of the $2 billion project for up-and-coming growers and farmers.

“The project reimagines the storage system for the future,” he said.

“The whole idea is to make the system more efficient, save water through redesign and make more water available to irrigators.”

Peter’s 20-year-old son Nathan and 27-year-old nephew Jordan both work for the Hall family business, which now spans four generations. Together, brothers Peter, Todd and Shane irrigate about 360ha growing apples, pears, stone fruit and pomegranates.

They also run Integrity Fruit, a joint fruit packing operation.

Peter reflected on his own youth and said attitudes to water had changed since he and his brothers were children growing up on the orchard.

“I remember we would play in the channel that had a rusty old water wheel getting to the end of its life, there were lots of leaks, the system was inefficient and difficult to manage, I would imagine,” Peter said.

“We would flood irrigate and staged water based on it not being too muddy.

“We view water much more carefully now.”

He said there were two key benefits of the Connections Project he saw as essential for the future of the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District (GMID).

“It saves water making more water available for irrigators. And that should keep prices down; it’s just supply and demand,” he said.

He said irrigation water was a valuable, natural resource and protecting irrigators’ consumptive pool provided benefits to all GMID communities.

“It’s a gift to our community. To some extent I would say that water was shared but it’s shared by those that live in our region; by those who choose to live here,” he said.

Connections Project Director Frank Fisseler said - as the largest irrigation modernisation project in the country - the Connections Project was protecting the GMID’s status as a source of high security water.

“The project enhances the sustainability of our entire region. Importantly, it ensures confidence in the agricultural sector in the GMID,” Mr Fisseler said.

Peter is passionate about the local community and considers the region’s landowners unique and innovative.

“When people came to Australia, the ones that dared to go over the Great Dividing Range encountered a completely different climate to those who clung to the eastern seaboard,” he said.

“People here have been characterised as prepared to take a little bit of a risk and prepared to be innovative.

“These days, we have refugees looking for a new start, finding jobs and families.

“In the Goulburn Valley, we offer an opportunity to have a crack and do something a bit different and reimagine ourselves.”

He said the Connections Project fostered these attitudes.

“It gives us the capacity to make something out of nothing,” he said.

“The project will sustain people who want to have a go at creating a food operation in the Goulburn Valley.”

Peter Hall is a member of the Connections Project Stakeholder Consultative Committee.

The $2 billion Connections Project is Australia’s largest irrigation modernisation project and is funded by the Australian and Victorian Governments.

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Economic investment