WA must embrace irrigation in the north to unlock its agricultural potential

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Posted : Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Western Australia is searching for irrigation opportunities in the state's far north to unlock its potential rivers of gold in food exports to Asia, a CEDA agricultural forum has been told in Perth.

Minster for Water and Forestry, the Hon. Mia Davies, told the forum that the Western Australian government is spending $40 million over the next four years in its Water for Food program to "turbo charge" ground water investigation across WA.

With the global population growing by 215,000 people a day, how to feed the masses was becoming core business for an increasing number of governments, Ms Davies said.

"Western Australia can be part of the long term food solution but only if we dramatically increase and expand our production and that means creating opportunities for irrigation across our state by finding the water, resolving land tenure barriers and providing export infrastructure as required.

"We must embrace irrigation and it needs to be at a scale far beyond the estimated 50,000 hectares we currently irrigate today," Ms Davies said.

"The state's 2008 water study estimated that there were 10 million hectares of land suitable for irrigation agriculture in Western Australia, half of which is in the west Kimberley."

She said the underdeveloped rangelands, with 452 pastoral leases covering 87 million hectares or 34 per cent of the state, represented the greatest opportunity to expand Western Australia's agricultural exports.

But while the Department of Water estimated that there were more than 1000 gigalitres of sustainable fresh water in the Pilbara and Kimberley alone, accessing it would require a journey through approvals, including native title, environmental assessment and investment, the forum heard.

Western Australia had a strong interest in urgently addressing these issues to accelerate its beef exports into China, Indonesia and Vietnam, Ms Davies said.

The US agricultural attaché in Bejing estimated China's beef imports in 2014 will grow to 550,000 tonnes, up from 400,000 tonnes in 2013 and China's demand for beef could exceed 100,000 head of cattle a year, making it the second biggest live market behind Indonesia, the forum heard.

But Australia faced steep competition from countries such as Brazil, Canada, Uruguay and the US, Ms Davies said. And WA currently only has about 2 million of Australia's 25 million head of cattle, having to truck beef in from the east to satisfy local demand, the forum heard.

The forum also heard:
Farmers and processors needed to have a more equitable share of the profits (of more than 50 per cent now predominantly goes to retailers) in order to secure supply; and
Greater investment in equipment and research and development was needed to build scale and compete internationally.

The forum also heard:

  • Farmers and processors needed to have a more equitable share of the profits (of more than 50 per cent now predominantly goes to retailers) in order to secure supply; and
  • Greater investment in equipment and research and development was needed to build scale and compete internationally.

Chair of the Grain Industry Association of WA, Jon Slee said Western Australian agriculture needed to be better marketed to attract investment, particularly in high value-added segments.

"We don't sell it well enough - that WA agriculture is a huge pot of gold," Mr Slee said.

"One of my dreams is to see major food processing hub which might cost between $600 million and $700 million to build.

"We need to go to market with the fact that this is a pot of gold and put that prospectus out."

Other speakers at this forum included:
Kevin Sorgiovanni,
Director, Harvey Fresh; and
Peter Trefort, Director, Meat and Livestock Australia; Member, WA Beef Council.

News Source : WA must embrace irrigation in the north to unlock its agricultural potential
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