Four major northern ag developments gain momentum

Eric Barker, September 24, 2021

DEVELOPING the north has been on the agenda for decades as governments and industries look to stimulate economies and take advantage of untapped potential.

While that development may not have been as fast and as prolific as some may have hoped, the past two years has seen some significant advances.

With momentum picking up, Grain Central has compiled a list of some of the major developments in the agricultural industry.

Katherine, Kununurra and north Queensland cotton gins

While abattoirs have been in the sights of many councils and industry groups across the north, the prospect of building new cotton gins has been moving up the priority list.

Record crops have been grown in the north in recent years and at this stage dozens of road trains have been travelling more than 3000km to have it processed in southern Queensland.

Beef Central understands a small gin is expected to start operating in the Northern Territory town of Katherine next year with the potential of expanding to meet any future increases in production.

Cotton processing in Western Australia is also progressing, with NAIF conditionally approving a $32 million loan to help a cooperative of growers and an Indigenous corporation build a gin in the Kununurra area.

The loan is subject to environmental and other regulatory approvals.

Similar proposals in north Queensland are not as advanced but are still on the horizon for local growers, with a feasibility study finding cotton processing a viable business opportunity in the area.

Signature beef processing plant

North Queensland producers Blair and Josie Angus are building the first new processing plant in Queensland in more than 20 years.

The Signature Onfarm abattoir has been constructed on Sondella Station, 125km north-west of Moranbah, adding to the Angus Pastoral Company portfolio.

The company managed to attract a $24 million Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) loan, securing finances needed for the project.

When the ‘boutique-scale’ abattoir is running at full capacity, it is expected to employ about 70 to 80 people and process up to 200 cattle per day – with the Angus family seeking export accreditation.

Dozens of other abattoir proposals have been made in towns across the north over the past few years, with few options for processing other than the JBS Townsville plant, and the Kimberley Meat Company in Derby.

But for a range of different reasons, including funding and regulatory approvals, these proposals have not progressed. Stand by for an update story on the Signature Onfarm project.

Flinders and Ord irrigation developments

Ord River

Irrigated crops in both the Ord River in Western Australia and gulf country in north Queensland have seen some significant investments in recent times.

The Ord is the more established cropping area of the two, with the construction of Lake Argyle in 1972 resulting in the development of 14,000ha of irrigated farmland – growing grains, cotton, sandalwood, mangoes and more.

Ord Stage two followed in 2012 and has seen some considerable investment – including the 2016 sale of the CPC-owned Carlton Hill Station to the Chinese-backed Kimberley Agriculture Investments (KAI).

Beef Central understands KAI is currently farming about 7000ha, mainly growing corn and some cotton.

The company has also partnered with Ron Greentree, who is known as Australia’s largest wheat farmer, to cultivate another 5000ha as part of Ord Stage two.

Until earlier this year, Mr Greentree was growing crops on Strathmore Station in Queensland’s gulf country, which is owned by the Harris family.

Gulf country

While Mr Greentree has left the gulf country, the area has seen some significant development in the past two years.

Etta Plains from the air during the 2009 flood

A handful of irrigators from the Murray Darling Basin have either purchased or leased properties in the area to grow dry-land crops.

The most notable entrance has been the Findley family from Narrabri in New South Wales, who purchased Etta Plains station, north of a Julia Creek, with a 39,500-megalitre water allocation from the Flinders River.

Findley Farms has started growing irrigated and dryland crops on the property – with the intention of building on-farm water storage.

Earlier this year, the Queensland Government announced it was planning to release another 145,000 megalitres in the catchment, with mining and farming competing for the water. The Findleys have shown interest in buying more water from the next release.

Proponents of public-funded dams in Richmond and Hughenden are also hoping to share in the water.

Aquaculture emergence

While intensifying the agricultural industries has been a major part of the northern development agenda, aquaculture has emerged an attractive prospect.

A barramundi farm at Humpty Doo, south of Darwin, was the first to receive a NAIF loan and is now Australia’s largest of its kind.

But there is a larger scale of development on the cards, with a company called Sea Farms aiming to build a series of prawn farms along the Western Australian and the Northern Territory coasts.

As the part of its Sea Dragon project the company wants to build prawn farms at Exmouth, Kununurra, Legune Station and two in the Darwin area – providing year round supply to the export market.




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