Mildura: raised by the sun
In 1885, the Chaffey brothers from Canada had a vision to turn a derelict sheep station in what is now Mildura into the site for their first irrigation settlement. It was a vision they brought to life in California and the neat grid layout of Mildura laced with citrus groves is today the reality.
But drive just half an hour out of the town now recognised for wining and dining and the arts and the reality of that challenge is clear: scrubby Mallee gums, saltbush, salt pans and dust bowls.
“Mildura is a vital contributor to Victoria’s food production sector.”
Despite these conditions, from a pioneer irrigation settlement clinging to the languid Murray River, the Mildura community has grown into a hub of food production, manufacturing, transport links and logistics.
The region’s warm climate, innovative infrastructure and transport links – initially steam driven paddleboats - have helped position Mildura as a powerhouse for key industries like irrigated horticulture (table grapes, wine grapes, dried grapes, citrus, vegetables and nuts), dryland farming, tourism, food and beverage manufacturing and more.
While its gourmet reputation owes much to celebrated chef and winemaker Stefano di Pieri, Mildura is a vital contributor to Victoria’s food production sector, supplying 99.9 per cent of dried and table grapes, 99.6 per cent almonds, 86.2 per cent citrus and 75.5 per cent wine grapes to Victorian consumers. It’s also home to strong emerging markets with increased crops of pistachios, olives, garlic and avocados. And mangoes are a new addition.
Yet, as through its history, there have been challenges for both the food and manufacturing sector and tourism in the past couple of years. In particular, environmental extremes such as drought, heatwaves and dust storms have provided a unique set of hurdles to overcome. The coronavirus has also impacted the otherwise strong demand for export commodities and in-bound tourists from Asia.
That environment, challenging as it can be, is also Mildura’s advantage: dry, sunny conditions, rich red soils and crisp winters, when managed are a boon. Not for nothing was the name for the region, “Sunraysia”, chosen by public competition more than a century ago.
Mildura Regional Development (MRD) is driving the region towards a future that’s bright, prosperous and secure through projects like Smart Farm, developed with SuniTAFE, and partnerships with local and external businesses, education facilities and investors. To reach this goal, MRD has five key focuses:
- Connecting small to medium size enterprises to create a thriving local economy.;
- Growing the visitor economy and attracting new events;
- Supporting the implementation of Education Mildura;
- Promoting a new technology future for agriculture and manufacturing; and
- Helping to develop a community that has the skills needed for the future.
Helping local small and medium enterprises to grow is integral to creating jobs for the ongoing future prosperity of the region and that of Australia more broadly.
Brett Millington is Chief Executive Officer of Mildura Regional Development
Bright times ahead for Sunraysia agri