ONE Basin water research hubs proposed

Murray Basin CRC proposes Dookie, Mildura research hubs

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ONE BASIN: The University Of Melbourne is is seeking $50m in federal funding for the One Basin 10-year research initiative.

ONE BASIN: The University Of Melbourne is is seeking $50m in federal funding for the One Basin 10-year research initiative.

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Ambitious proposal to manage Murray-Darling Basin resources.

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Local expertise will play a crucial role in work by a proposed ONE Basin Cooperative Research Centre to ensure the Goulburn-Murray's farms, businesses, and environment have the resilience to weather a changing climate.

The bid to set up the $170 million CRC has been pitched to the federal government by the lead agency, the University of Melbourne.

The University is seeking $50m in federal funding for the 10-year research initiative and has proposed five regional hubs, including at Dookie and in Mildura.

The other hubs are proposed for Griffith, NSW, Goondiwindi, Qld and Loxton, SA.

The CRC aims to offer an industry-led and basin-wide approach to the science needed to manage the Murray-Darling Basin's resources sustainably.

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Long term sustainability

ONE Basin interim chief executive Mike Stewardson said the CRC aimed to support industry to increase its long term sustainability, profitability and competitiveness.

"We have seen major changes and rapid pressure in the water sector over the last two decades; it's not just variability in climate and the drought that has had a significant impact on the Basin, it's also in terms of water management arrangements," Mr Stewardson said.

"But what is striking to me is that we are actually at the lowest point, in terms of research to support the water industry and users like irrigators, since the 1980s.

"It's absolutely extraordinary - and what is more concenring is there is a lack of collaborative arrangements, to work on water challenges, which is absolutely critical."

He said the proposed CRC would focus on rural industries, particularly agriculture and the associated services sector.

"It's a partnership with industry," he said.

"The idea is we will put most of the staff in regional areas.

"We have plans to set up five regional hubs across the Murray Darling Basin, and we will have those closely linked with regional organisations, dealing with the problems defined by the region."

While there was a lot of research being done in the agricultural sector, water management had been neglected.

"That's where we are focussed, water management, climate risk, the technologies that are needed to enable and advance agriculture," he said.

The bid is supported by a coalition of industry and community groups, universities, government bodies, and businesses that have committed more than $120 million to its operation.

At last count, there were 80 bid partners, including the Victorian Farmers Federation, Murray River Council, Greater Shepparton City Council, Riverland and Murray Joint Organisation, Southern Growers, Western Murray Land Improvement Group, Murray Darling Basin Authority, Hort Innovation and Local Land Services. NSW.

Prof Stewardson said previous CRCs had been a significant forum for driving innovation.

"We are not a decision-making body; the CRC is about exploring policy options and we can be a forum where they can be discussed," he said.

"We are looking to bridge the gap between that strong local knowledge and understanding about what the opportunities and challenges are around water management and the work that state governments and the MDBA do in water reform, management and planning to drive better outcomes."

Farmer groups and the industry were all "really enthusiastic" about that possibility, he said.

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Dookie hub

The Goulburn Valley-Central Murray Hub will work with partners across a region that spans the Murray River and reaches south to Bendigo in Victoria and north to Deniliquin in NSW.

ONE Basin CRC Goulburn Valley-Central Murray Hub lead Professor Tim Reeves said the regional centres would play a key role.

The Goulburn Valley-Central Murray Hub, planned for Dookie, will work with partners across a region that spans the Murray River and reaches south to Bendigo in Victoria and north to Deniliquin in NSW.

"What the hubs bring is this place-based approach to research that will help farmers, communities and industries adapt to what the likely new scenarios will be for water and climate, in the Basin," Prof Reeves said.

Specific, expert personnel would be hired to staff the hubs.

"A key part of CRC's is PhD training so there would be scholarships available," he said.

"Our idea would be that any new PhD candidates are working on issues, challenges and opportunities, identified by industry.

"We want them to be tackling those things that are seen as really important to adapting to a Basin that is probably going to have less, and higher priced, water."

Prof Reeves said it was proposed the CRC would be an evidence-based organisation.

"We look at options; we don't make judgments on which of those options we find.

"He said he hoped research would identify the most water-use efficient production system the industry could use.

"One could think of the dairy industry, where there are quite a lot of people thinking about looking at, or using, more water-efficient crops, such as maise, compared to pastures and the system that goes with that.

"It may well you have a total mixed ration approach and a cut and carry system where you are taking the feed to the cows, rather than the other way around."

Just applying technology provided only a marginal saving.

"If you can change the mix, change the system, the add the technologies, you can get those synergies where you have much greater gains."

Federal Industry, Science and Technology ministerKaren Thomas is expected to announce the successful CRC bids in March, with funding issued in October.

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