EXPANSION of the Myalup and Collie River irrigated vegetable-growing and dairying areas will head seven water-for-agriculture projects across the State to receive a $24.5 million funding boost.
Water Minister Mia Davies announced the projects and funding at the WA College of Agriculture, Harvey, on Thursday last week as stage two of the four-year $40m Royalties for Regions-funded Water for Food program launched last year in the Kimberley.
Ms Davies said the aim was to increase WA's "fresh food and animal protein production" by half by 2025, and to double it by 2050.
"Government would work with the private sector to improve water-use technology, establish new irrigation precincts and expand existing agricultural and pastoral opportunities to tap the emerging markets of South East Asia, China and the Middle East," Ms Davies said.
"Water for Food is a policy that sets out to de-risk economic opportunities for the private sector to take up.
"Right now WA has just 50,000 hectares under irrigation.
"We have the potential - matching water with arable land - for far more.
"There is only 6000ha in the Waroona, Harvey and Collie River irrigation area, yet the total irrigable land in this district is estimated to be 34,000ha.
"It is imperative that we do everything we can to create opportunity for irrigators to expand.
"Our mandate to do this was reinforced recently with the release of a new report from the Regional Australia Institute.
"It clearly states that diversification of the State's regions is critical for WA's economic strength and new opportunities must be pursued."
In the Myalup Irrigated Agricultural Precinct and the Collie River Irrigation District, a large part of the $5.7m made available by Water for Food would focus on how to make best use of saline water from Wellington Dam, with a number of technical options to be explored.
"We have a 186 gigalitre capacity in Wellington Dam but salinity is limiting growth in the Collie River Irrigation District," Ms Davies said.
"In preparation for this project and having consulted with key stakeholders in the district, at the end of last year I established the Myalup-Wellington Steering Group to look at how we can deal with salinity issues and independently assess innovative private-sector concepts to improve water quality below the dam wall.
"Part of the funding announced today will support that work.
"I am not prepared to accept the status quo when it comes to Wellington Dam.
"The Myalup-Wellington Steering Group will be heard at the top levels of government by feeding into the Water for Food ministerial steering committee.
"It will be supported by a technical advisory group, with all water treatment proposals, concepts and water delivery models to be independently assessed," Ms Davies said.
John Shannon, chief executive of VegetablesWA, welcomed Ms Davies' announcement.
The Myalup area was already a "significant contributor" to the State's economy and "dominates" national vegetable export earnings, Mr Shannon said.
"For example, 93 per cent of Australia's carrot exports come from Myalup", he said.
"The gross value of production in Myalup is currently about $65m and it generates employment for 150 full-time workers and an additional 200 seasonal workers.
"Recent work done by VegetablesWA shows that a significant majority of vegetable growers in Myalup are able and keen to expand their businesses, but water availability is a key impediment to this expansion.
"The work looked at a large range of scenarios and even if an extra 15 to 20 gigalitres were made available, then production value would easily double to well over $120m."
Myalup vegetable grower Joe Castro of Castro Farms said being able to use Wellington Dam water would take pressure off coastal groundwater resources which he currently used to water crops.
"I'm pumping groundwater which is 1400 (parts per million salt) and from the sound of it, Wellington Dam water is already better at 1100 (ppm salt) and with the head pressure from the dam I wouldn't have to pump," Mr Castro said.
He said his farm filled 28 12-metre (40 feet) shipping containers with carrots in November.
"It was our best month yet, we normally average about 200 containers a year," he said.
Harvey dairy farmer Sam Epiro said he hoped Water for Food-funded research and improvements would reduce the risk of increased soil salinity from irrigation, particularly flood irrigation used by many dairy farmers to water pasture.
Geoff Calder, general manager of Harvey Water - the 707-member co-operative licensed to distribute water from Wellington and five other dams along the Darling escarpment - said he hoped the funding announced by Ms Davies would be supplemented by Federal funding for infrastructure.
"In Harvey Water's current five-year strategic plan we have adopted the theme that we would be using our access to water to promote regional development," Mr Calder said.
"The Minister's funding announcement fits firmly within that theme as there is a lot to be obtained on both a regional and State economy basis by increasing the production of vegetables from the Myalup area," Mr Calder said.
Water for Food initiatives could also help the area's beef and dairy producers and processors meet expected increased export demand generated by Free Trade Agreements, he said.