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Accessible groundwater is vital to agriculture in south west Victoria

26 February 2024 | News
26 February 2024

Alanvale Farms manage 3,000 hectares in the Western District and run a 1,200 spring calving dairy herd and a 1,500 self-replacing Angus herd. They employ 12 people and supply high-quality milk and meat that’s enjoyed across Australia. And it’s only possible because of access to groundwater says Business Operations Manager, Andrew Graham.  

“Unlike other regions in Victoria, we don’t have large storages to draw on and groundwater is the lifeblood of our agricultural communities. Without it, farming simply wouldn’t exist here,” he said. 

Alanvale Farms access their water from the Hawkesdale Groundwater Management area within the Southwest Limestone aquifer.  

Ninety percent of groundwater licensed in the aquifer is used for irrigation purposes.  

Southern Rural Water regulate and ensure the groundwater is managed in an equitable and sustainable way. 

Andrew says they have several irrigation bores that mostly pump groundwater into an on-farm dam before being pumped out into their centre pivot irrigation system. 

“We have 360 hectares under irrigation, and it’s vital for managing the risk of not having water available at important times of year to hit our production targets when rainfall patterns vary,” he said. 

Groundwater use in the Southwest Limestone aquifer is capped and the total licenced volume for this area is 80,399 megalitres.  

This cap is in place to protect the resource and prevent it from being depleted or causing adverse impacts to the environment or community. And because no new allocation is being made available, trade is the main way farmers can increase their access to groundwater. 

Alanvale Farms currently use around 1,600 megalitres and some of this relies on trades of temporary licences.  

Andrew is well-versed in the groundwater application and trading processes. 

“Before we were granted a licence, we had to do a lot of work and make significant investments proving pumping wouldn’t impact neighbouring properties,” he said. 

“We had to get a computer modelled hydrology test done, sink a bore, and complete a seven-day pump test. We also had to go through a public consultation,” he said. 

Andrew said the significant costs of the licencing process can be a barrier to using water productively. Then there’s the additional challenge of finding someone with water who’s willing to trade. 

“For new users, especially young businesses with big plans, they don’t have the capital available to gamble on the possibility of not getting a licence. This kind of uncertainty could curtail growth and jobs,” he said. 

The requirements for a groundwater licence are tiered depending on the volume of water being applied for. Low impact applications (below 20 megalitres) don’t require the same level of work and cost as a high impact application (more than 400 megalitres). 

Southern Rural Water Field Officer Kevin Williams said the process is fair and transparent. 

“We want to help farmers and use water productively, but we have a legislative duty to ensure any extraction doesn’t negatively impact existing users, the environment, water quality or its long-term availability,” he said. 

“I have a ‘no surprises’ approach and will talk honestly about the opportunities and risks of an application. It’s why I strongly encourage people to give me a call before they apply,” he said. 

When it comes to accessing more water Andrew says there’s plenty of water entitlement in the area but knowing who is willing to sell or lease can be tricky. 

“We’ve been farming in the area for a long time so tend to hear about opportunities through word of mouth.  

“We’re also easy to trade with because we’ve done the work and have the monitoring systems set up to prove our operations aren’t impacting anyone. Once a price for a trade has been agreed, it’s just an easy paperwork exercise.” 

“It’s not always that easy for everyone especially if you don’t have those historic ties or if someone’s application falls through,” he said. 

Kevin Williams prides himself on the relationships he has with his customers and says he always keeps an ear to the ground for water trading opportunities. 

“I’ve recently put Andrew in touch with two licence holders to initiate trades and one of these has already been processed,” he said. 

“We know farmers want to access more groundwater in this part of the world and that’s why we’re currently conducting a study on removing trading barriers in the Southwest Limestone Aquifer.” 

Southern Rural Water will review and discuss the study with our customers and stakeholders before progressing any recommendations. 

If you need information about water trading, get in touch and we’ll put you in touch with the right Southern Rural Water field officer. Talk to us on:1300 139 510. 

More information about groundwater in southern Victoria is available through our groundwater map