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Tech & Science Menindee holds on to its grape industry, despite water woes

05:45  06 december  2019
05:45  06 december  2019 Source:   abc.net.au

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Yet despite the damning assessment of the business case, the Menindee Lakes project is one of 36 projects listed by the MDBA to deliver environmental Water recovered for the environment is held by the commonwealth environmental water holder, who works with the assistance of the Murray-Darling

Broken Hill has turned on its desalination plant to keep water flowing as the Menindee Lakes, three "We are talking about agriculture and we are talking about mining and industry , and the importance When filled to capacity by the nearby Darling River, the Menindee Lakes hold more than three times

a person standing posing for the camera: Grape grower Steve Howse and his daughters Macey, 11 and Pippa, 8. (ABC News: Gayle Ball)© Provided by ABC NEWS Grape grower Steve Howse and his daughters Macey, 11 and Pippa, 8. (ABC News: Gayle Ball)

Menindee's table grape industry is surviving — not thriving — despite the drought, water security concerns and mass fish deaths which thrust the town into national headlines earlier this year.

The Darling River town is the birthplace of the Menindee seedless variety, a type favoured by customers because of its size, taste and texture.

For decades, Menindee's grape growers produced up to a million boxes a year.

A lack of water security caused some growers to step away from the once-thriving industry, but the region still had an estimated 22,000 to 25,000 producing vines.

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Even a couple of grape growers have moved back in and begun working towards breathing life back into the grape growing industry . Billie, 30, has lived in Menindee her whole life. She works at the Water NSW office and until giving birth recently held down a job at the local supermarket for ten years.

Grape growing (wine, raisin, and table) is the largest fruit industry in Australia with production in a wide range Menindee Seedless is the predominant variety of plantings in northern Australia. The water survey will include assessment of on-farm water resources, access to off-farm water supplies and

Ideal window

While picking in the lead up to — and over Christmas — does not seem ideal to an outsider, grower Steve Howse said it was the perfect time for Menindee crops to be harvested.

"Menindee has its own window of opportunity, so we obviously come in before the Sunraysia guys pick and we come in after the Queensland guys.

"From a marketing point of view, that's our opportunity, that's our window to get in and get our fruit off and get it in to people's fridges."

"If you can capitalise on that window, if you can grow your fruit to the quality that's required to make supermarkets, it really is quite a good opportunity and quite exciting to be involved in."

The grapes are sold to the Costa Group, Australia's largest horticultural company, and then to the major supermarket chains.

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Water flowing into the Menindee Lakes, the city’s key source, is at a record low amid an El Nino-induced drought. Federal and state governments are committing billions of dollars to water security, as researchers predict southern Australia will experience more frequent and severe droughts.

Menindee , frequently but erroneously spelled "Menindie", is a small town in the far west of New South Wales, Australia, in Central Darling Shire, on the banks of the Darling River

"They have a minimum size that you have to grow to and that's 17 millimetres," Mr Howse said. "So we aim to grow a minimum berry size of 18 millimetres and the bunch needs to be clean, not too tight and without any markings on the berries."

From the mine to the vines

Mr Howse works as a diesel mechanic on the mines in Broken Hill, and spends his days off at his two grape growing properties in the Darling River town, just over 110 kilometres away.

He is hoping to one day make it a full-time career so he can spend more time with his wife Emma and daughters Macey, 11 and Pippa, 8.

"Moving forward this is where we want to be, we want to be out here growing these fresh grapes."

He is estimating he will produce about 100 tonnes of table grapes this summer.

But it is not a career for those looking for an easy way to make money.

"It is a lot of work. Everything we do is done by hand.

"Being a table fruit, it's all about presentation so machinery marking the fruit is obviously not something we can do. "

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Menindee table grapes were once famous but with the dwindling river, Costa Group, a major This, says McCrabb, will cripple the tourist industry of Menindee . Grey nomads don’t come when the “The proposed Menindee Lakes project (MLWSP) has been shown to impact water security and supply in

How these water woes affect businesses is difficult to gauge and varies from state to state. At the extreme end of the spectrum, Oregon is reluctant to Despite impending shortages and restrictions on the water supply in Nevada, its water concerns haven't slowed growth in the lower part of the state

Water concerns

Menindee Lakes is down to half a per cent of capacity and Mr Howse said this could be the last year his vines produce any fruit.

"At this point in town it's only our high security water that we're on 30 per cent allocation, so it really is quite low and Menindee was always, definitely a guaranteed position to get your water," Mr Howse said.

"This is all quite a bit of a shame, I believe a lot of it's just to do with the management."

Going with the flow

Long-time grower Charlie Lombardo is also expecting to produce about 100 tonnes this year.

He has seen so many ups and downs within the industry, he has learned to take it all in his stride.

"I've been there and I've done it before, so whatever happens, happens."

But experience has taught him next year's crop won't be as good, unless there are fresh flows to reduce the river's salinity content.

"The vines can get really affected and that can really get your quantity down and your quality down."

Hope for the future

Menindee resident Graeme McCrabb said there was still some optimism amongst growers that things will improve.

"One of the stations that sold recently are talking about putting in another 5,000 to 10,000 vines in the future," Mr McCrabb said.

"They can't be planted this year with the water conditions.

"I think there's some hope that there's some smaller lots will start to pop up here in the next five to 10 years.

"If water security can be improved markedly, there's a big window for grapes still to be grown in Menindee."

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