THE Derby business community has reiterated the need for a West Kimberley port facility, following the release of the State Government's Water for Food initiative last week.
The Water for Food scheme is a four-year project that will see $40 million of Royalties for Regions funding used to identify water and land resources and irrigation technologies that could increase the contribution of WA's fresh food and animal protein production to regional economies by at least 50 per cent by 2050.
The first stage of the initiative saw $15.5m allocated to the West Kimberley region last week, including the allocation of $3.6m to establish an irrigation trial at the Mowanjum Pastoral Company, an Aboriginal run-station located on Derby's fringe.
Mowanjum is a 55,000ha pastoral lease and recently sold 200 head of cattle into live trade for the first time since 1982.
The company has grown its cattle numbers from less than 500 head a few years ago to almost 2000 head, and it aspires to radically increase herd numbers in the future.
Given the projected economic growth from agriculture in the region, as well as the continued expansion of the mining and gas industry in recent years, the Derby Shire and local chamber of commerce believe a port facility is needed in order to fully capture the looming opportunities.
Derby Chamber of Commerce and Industry secretary Stewart Milne said expectations for growth in irrigated agriculture and beef production meant the West Kimberley required a port facility with the capacity to service exports.
Despite past interest from the private sector, he said red tape and regulation had strangled the development of proposed projects.
Mr Milne noted a falling population and a lack of employment opportunities in Derby, and said a port facility could be what the town needed to grow through the provision of employment opportunities for indigenous and non-indigenous people.
"We know the demand for services is going to be there in two to three years," Mr Milne said.
"We will be playing a game of catch-up if we don't address this soon."
Broome is the largest receival port for cattle exports to international markets, exporting tens of thousands of cattle overseas each year.
Pastoralists and members of industry from the region believe a West Kimberley port would mean major logistical and efficiency gains.
A 2009 submission to the State Development Department identified as a national infrastructure priority the development of appropriate port-related infrastructure and industry land at Point Torment, a site located about 30 kilometres north of Derby, in King Sound.
At the time the Point Torment proposal was focused on locating a marine supply base at the site that would service the substantial expansion of the oil and gas industry off the West Kimberley coast.
But the $600 million plans proposal was met with opposition from environmental groups.
Derby Shire president Elsia Archer said the region was desperate for a port, which could also be used for live cattle exports.
"Given projections for food growth, there is only a small window left and it has to happen now or we'll miss the boat," Ms Archer said.
"I think the opportunities are huge, not just for Derby but for the West Kimberley.
"We have been trying to get something happening, this is my 14th year as president and I have been working on it for 12 of those years."
"It is just about attracting the right investment in Point Torment."
Ms Archer said the private sector had show interest in developing the Derby port on the back of mining and gas activity in the Browse Basin, but no firm commitments had been made yet.