Securing niche market opportunities on our doorstep

Kristin Favaloro
Two minutes

Ardmona’s Dr Sally Plunkett is a cider maker with expertise in many fields.

And for the past 13 years, she has been perfecting the brew for her craft label Snakes and Ladders with apples from the Plunkett family orchard and inspiration from a local tale.

Drawing on historical diaries written by members of the Australian Women’s Land Army during their time in Mooroopna, Dr Plunkett, 43, said their descriptions of the region struck a chord with her.

“They were the women who came up here during World War II to pick the fruit and do all the jobs the men would do but the men were away at war,” she said.

“I was reading their diary entries and common themes that came up over, and over again were the terrifying snakes they had to deal with and the huge and heavy ladders they lugged around the orchards.

“I like the idea of Snakes and Ladders. I connected with the name.”

Dr Plunkett had traveled with her husband Andrew Plunkett to Germany and France several times revealing opportunities to value add to the orchard business that were right on her doorstep.

Just like the growers in Europe she set-up a cidery metres from the family’s apple orchard. And she now single-handedly ferments the juice of the fruit they grow. The result is a sparkling alcoholic drink exported to Singapore and available locally.

The cidery is an example of the innovate new products being created in the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District (GMID) thanks to the security the $2 billion Connections Project is creating.

But, Dr Plunkett remembers when the region’s future was not so bright. While completing a PHD in cow nutrition she witnessed the millennium drought first hand.

She believes the modernisation project is a critical piece in the puzzle because it is generating water savings and driving system efficiencies.

“I could see the effects of the drought and the impact of not having enough water. From that point on I became very conscious of the need to be efficient,” she said.

“On the orchard the way we view this vital resource, essential for the fruit growing process has changed so dramatically. We are as efficient as possible with everything we do on-farm.

“It just stands to reason that the Connections Project needed to be undertaken to reflect what irrigators were doing.”

Project Director Frank Fisseler said the upgrades would ensure the future prosperity of our region.

“The Connections Project is the largest irrigation modernisation project in Australia,” Mr Fisseler said.

“When the project is complete – and the channels that waste water through leakage, seepage and evaporation are upgraded or rationalised – it’s estimated an average annual water savings of 429GL

will be achieved and irrigation water use efficiency will be increased from about 70 per cent to at least 85 per cent.”

For Dr Plunkett, the project secured the opportunity to explore a niche market.

“I wouldn’t have invested all of my time and my life and my energy and my ideas in starting this new business if I didn’t feel secure in the orchard’s future,” she said.

“If there was any doubt as to whether we would have water, I wouldn’t have even thought about value adding and starting a new product. I think that would be the same for a lot of people.

“I felt secure in the knowledge that the core business of food production is going to be able to tick over year after year and we will be able to keep producing the amazing fruit we grow here in the Goulburn Valley.

“The Connections Project lessens the impact of drought because the infrastructure will more efficiently deliver water which will make such a difference in the tight years and enable us to withstand the challenges.”

Dr Plunkett said the GMID was capable of growing vast volumes of food efficiently and the Connections Project heightened that opportunity.

“With projected population growth, it makes sense to support those areas that are going to be able to feed a large number of people,” she said.

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Economic investment