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Potential loss of critical water supplies

AU: Foreign investors threaten local farmers

Adelaide Plains farmers are just recovering from devastating floods, but now they have another threat to attend to; they could be put out of business as the State Government considers allocating critical water supplies to foreign investors.

The farmers say the plan to allow investors, including two Spanish companies, to establish hi-tech greenhouses in the Virginia region threatens their livelihoods.

Growers in the area receive about 17 gigalitres of recycled water from the Bolivar Waste Water Treatment Plant each year, via the Virginia Pipeline Scheme. SA Water plans to make an extra 20GL of recycled water available through the pipeline.

Local growers say they are relying on that extra 20GL to maintain and enhance their business.

But two Spanish firms — water technology experts Valoriza Agua and horticultural company New Growing Systems — have joined South Australian firms Tonkin Consulting and Leed Engineering and Construction to put forward a proposal to use the additional water to grow crops in new hi-tech greenhouses said to “maximise production and water-use efficiency”.

The State Government has agreed to conduct a feasibility study on the potential economic and employment benefits of the plan, which proponents say will create 5000 jobs.

It is expected to report back by the end of the year.

However, local farmers are warning it would be disastrous if the proposal is approved.

Hillier farmer Thang “Kevin” Le said many existing producers were reluctant to expand their family businesses and were concerned about their future because of uncertainty about where the extra water might go.

Mr Le said it was unlikely that produce from the proposed greenhouses would attract export deals into China because the Chinese market wanted vegetables “grown out of the soil — that’s what Australia is famous for”.

“So they're going to flood the local market,” he said.

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