Image: The development of a large scale horticulture enterprise at Monash offers a welcome boost to the southern Murray-Darling Basin economy.
A bold new agricultural development will see almost $210 million invested in the Riverland region of South Australia over the next five years, targeting the creation of more than 400 jobs.
The development of Coolamon Farms will include the planting of around 3,000 hectares to mixed horticulture, including almonds, citrus, and avocados. The project is located on Monash Station, a 10,000-hectare property currently owned and operated as a broad acre enterprise by local orchardist and businessman Mr John Gallard.
According to the project’s website, the operators aim to produce 30,000 tonnes of premium horticulture annually for both domestic and international markets, valued in wholesale terms at approximately $75 million AUD.
As well as implementing regenerative and sustainable farming methods, the operation of Coolamon Farms will involve the generation of solar energy to power the site’s irrigation requirements. Local council documents reveal that the project will involve the installation of a 26.4MW solar farm and diesel power plant for back up electricity generation.
Australian investment manager and project developer Kilara Capital, is aiming to raise the required capital over the course of 2018, with construction set to start in 2019. Initial crop yields are expected by 2022 with full production capacity achieved by 2026.
Kilara Capital’s Managing Director Ben Krasnostein confirmed that the majority of approvals required have been granted and the site is effectively shovel ready.
In terms of the irrigation, Mr Krasnostein is confident that the project partners will be able to secure the volume of water required for a development of this scale.
“The project developers and equity partners are working to formulate a comprehensive, flexible and sustainable water acquisition strategy,” he said. “It’s likely to be a mix of leased, owned and spot market entitlements.”
“The quantum of water is directly related to the final composition of horticulture crops and will ramp up over the 5 years of development.”
An additional income stream could come from the commercialisation of renewable energy infrastructure.
“The generation of renewable energy, beyond that which is required for on-farm operations is certainly an option. We are in the initial feasibility stage to see whether a larger, utility-scale Solar PV plant will stack up commercially.”
“We will use renewable energy sources behind-the-meter, to power the pumping and irrigation needs of the farm. This will assist in delivering a de-carbonised solution for the growing and production of all the off-take from the project.”
The Right Time for Job Creation
Publicity surrounding the Coolamon Farm development comes at a welcome time after The Murray-Darling Basin Authority confirmed that there was a downward trend in employment between 2000 and 2016.
The report showed that there has been a 37% decline in on-farm employment and a 16% decline in employment across all sectors, in the southern Murray-Darling Basin region.
While some job losses could be apportioned to on-farm efficiency gains and improvements in technology and automation, the report shows that up to 7% of on-farm job losses were a direct result of the Basin Plan.