As the end of winter nears, Peter Ward is reflecting on why he loves the season. It’s not the frosty mornings but the steady work for his family, his employees and the contractors thanks to his company’s link to the largest irrigation infrastructure project in Australia.
“Usually we’re chasing jobs across Victoria and interstate, even in the Northern Territory,” Peter said.
“But come winter, over the last seven or eight years, we’ve got everything happening and it’s right here in our own backyard.”
Peter and his brother Mark grew up in Rochester, where they launched Ward Bros a little more than 35 years ago. Over the decades they developed their expertise and built the business on the back of on-farm laser-grading, irrigation piping and all manner of earth-moving.
“When Future Flow came along in 2007, we were able to develop our civil construction experience and really take advantage of the investment in irrigation and agriculture across northern Victoria,” Peter said.
“Because much of the heavier capital works take place outside the irrigation season, it’s meant we’ve been especially busy over winter in recent years.”
Future Flow led to NVIRP (Northern Victoria Irrigation Renewal Project) which is now the Connections Project.
Modernisation of the region’s irrigation infrastructure has meant a tripling of employment at Ward Bros to about 60 full-time staff in the last 10 years. New bulldozers, trucks and graders have followed and, as Rochester locals, the Wards keep engineers, mechanics, servos and even bakers and baristas busy.
“The irrigation system is being upgraded right across the region with more investment than ever before,” Peter said.
“It’s a historic thing to be a part of what is the most important upgrade to the long-term future of our farms.”
Installation of more than 115 regulators has kept Ward Bros busy as part of this year’s Connections Project winter works through contractor John Holland, as well as meter installation, maintenance and 20km of stock and domestic pipeline which has been laid.
They have also laid 11km of pipeline along the Midland Hwy west of Stanhope using an innovative, trenchless method usually used to bury fibre optic cable.
“Ploughing the pipe” involves a single blade on a tractor opening a seam in the soil, with the pipe fed over the machinery, guided into the ground and buried in one continuous motion, using GPS technology.
“It’s local companies like ours that are doing the majority of the heavy lifting with irrigation upgrades,” Peter said. “It’s been great for us to be part of this project.”
Goulburn-Murray Water’s (GMW) Connections Project is a $2 billion investment from the Victorian and Commonwealth governments which is contributing to the future sustainability of productive agriculture in northern Victoria.
“This winter, the Connections Project team have overseen a $100 million capital works program which includes new pipelines, channel remediation and automation,” Project Director Frank Fisseler said.
This has seen crews working on up to 100 active sites daily, and this year’s works program is double the size of the previous year, completed in the same timeframe.
“We’re seeing this investment benefitting employment and businesses like Ward Bros right across the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District.
“In our communities the Connections Project is a significant contributor to job creation. It directly creates hundreds of jobs for local contractors, designers and manufacturers, benefits that are multiplied through support service providers,” he said.
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Minister for Water Lisa Neville said the $2 billion Connections Project is modernising the network, delivering water more efficiently, encouraging on farm efficiency and generating water savings that supports local jobs.