Member, Yatco Wetland Landcare Group
Interviews: 23rd February 2011, 6th October 2011
Sheridan and Craig Alm and their 3 children live at Pyap on a mixed citrus and wine grape property purchased in 2000. They run a vineyard management business, Yatco Viticulture, looking after 250 hectares of wine grapes and citrus, including Sheridan’s parent’s (Michael and Robyn Mason) Litchfield property overlooking the lagoon. The Mason property pumps water from the irrigation channel that links the river to the south lagoon.
Sheridan completed a degree in Natural Resources Management at Roseworthy in 1996 and moved to Loxton to work for the Fruit Doctors. She eventually left the Fruit Doctors in 2002 when her family purchased vineyards in the district including Litchfield (property named after descendent Fred Litchfield who was an early explorer on the Lower Murray in South Australia and is credited as the first to discover gold in the Northern Territory)where she and Craig started exploring vineyard management and contracting.
As young farmers there has been support from the community, sharing of history, access to knowledge, inclusiveness and feeling part of the community.
The highlights of their Yatco experience include:
- Environmental wins along the way;
- Groups of neighbours getting together and becoming friends;
- A small collective effort resulting in something bigger than expected.
When they first bought their property in 2002, after running the irrigation (undertree sprinklers) they noticed seepage returning to the wetland within only a few hours of turning the sprinklers on. This no longer happens with drippers. There is no seepage. Their testwells have not moved since conversion to drip irrigation and soil salinity levels are the lowest they have been since their purchase of the property.
The community actions to achieve better water quality for irrigation by relocating pumps to the river will significantly reduce back-flushing costs and the costs associated with replacing filters that wear out before their time.
Because her parents are still connected to the wetland they replace filters more often. There are also higher risks and costs associated with pumping higher salinity water from the lagoon, which increase significantly during a drought as salinity increases. The drought forced them to convert to drippers 3 years ago, and instead of converting the property in stages as originally planned, they converted 100% of the property at once.
Sheridan Alm has been instrumental in the formation and success of the Yatco Wetland Landcare Group.
Sheridan was born to be a farmer and follow in the footsteps of her grandparents from whom she has developeda strong affinity and sense of care for the environment. The Mason Family were some of the first European settlers along the Lower Lakes and River area and Sheridan herself is now the 6th generation of her family to farm on the Murray. She recalls her days as a student at Roseworthy Agricultural College when attitudes indicated that not all farmers cared about the environment.
She enjoys the fact that there is a strong duty of care (for the environment) in the Moorook and Yatco community.
Whilst the threat of drought and drying the lagoon to save water gave the community no choice, she is pleased that people cared as much for the lagoon as they did about protecting their enterprises, they all recognised that one could not continue to function without the other.
New leaders emerged from within the Yatco channel irrigators, and individuals became team players, willing to share skills and knowledge for the benefit of the community.
Government action has been delayed due to several factors during the past 6 years including:
- A change in Federal government and two changes in Federal Water Minister, and the new government initiating its own due diligence process after the project was initially funded by the previous Federal Government;
- A State Government election and change in local member;
- The National Water Reform and the emergence of the Draft Basin Plan;
- High rivers preventing works commencing on the site.
The SA MDB NRM Board is also in a transition phase to be more in tune with the community and hence Callie Nickolai’s role was broadened to support the monitoring program at Yatco Lagoon.
The biggest challenge
The biggest challenge has been waiting while nothing is happening, keeping everyone informed when there is little progress and going to meetings with the Government and coming away with no news. The Yatco group has been very ‘grown up’ in it’s attitude to communicating with Government and has accepted a level of accountability to their community on behalf of government. This has been a key factor in the success of negotiations however it takes a lot of personal time and effort.
To its credit, the group has been very patient, but Sheridan is concerned that further delays could weaken the group’s resolve to achieve the outcome of pump relocation to the river. As time ticks by the price of materials continues to increase and therefore everyone must pay a higher cost. Cynicism can set in and weaken the group’s resilience. In Sheridan’s words “We will do our best to stick together and complete this project though.”
Interestingly, the SA MDB NRM Board refers to the Yatco Wetland Landcare Group as “the group that continued to liaise”.
A vision for Yatco Lagoon
Sheridan hopes that Yatco Lagoon will look like Banrock Station wetland in 20 years time as a result of the community sharing its knowledge and experience with other wetland groups and embracing partnerships with government.
The Yatco Lagoon wetland project provides a branding opportunity for local produce. The old Drogemuller homestead would be a great site for a market and other activities during the week — such as a men’s shed.
There has been much community excitement regarding the wetland recovery as demonstrated by many visits to the shoreline. Sheridan hopes that the environmental recovery will keep people “here in our community and successfully farming for longer.”
The future will continue to depend on willing volunteers and the ability to engage the younger generation. Already, the kids are getting involved in the NRM Board education programs and becoming ambassadors for Yatco. It’s been a privilege for them to sit and listen to some of the older members of the “Group” and also to have special access to NRM Board staff.