MINING has the potential to invigorate and contribute to the agricultural industry and regional communities.
And although some conflict may be an inevitable factor in the relationship between the industries, there are various cross-benefits that result.
That was a key message from the 2013 Crawford Fund Conference, Bread from Stones session, which was co-hosted by the WA Beef Council.
Executives from major mining companies addressed a 150-strong crowd comprised of mining and agricultural professionals from mostly Africa and Australia, at the Alcoa Farmlands Wagerup property. Companies represented included Newmont, Rio Tinto, Alcoa, Fortescue Metals Groups and Citic Pacific Mining.
In each address, representatives outlined how their companies were involved in the agricultural industry as well as their efforts to enable agricultural production in conjunction with their mining operation.
Africa Australia Research Forum chairman David Doepel chaired the forum and said the WA Wheatbelt initially emerged as the result of the early mining gold rush.
"This conversation is not a new one and while the nexus between mining and agriculture is a recent conversation in WA we have a history of this going back more than 115 years," he said.
"Mining infrastructure gave rise to the transformation of pastoral land into incredibly productive wheat-growing areas.
"We not only get gold out of the ground but we have gold out of the fields as well.
"The intersection between mining and agriculture was an unintended consequence which has given rise to the research questions that we are asking today, which is what do mining and agriculture have in common, where do they conflict and where can synergies exist."
Department of Mines and Petroleum director general Richard Sellars and Department of Agriculture and Food director general Rob Delane also contributed to discussions.
There was limited farmer representation at the forum with the discussion panel dominated by mining industry representatives.
The "hay-bale" discussion centred on the challenges and opportunities for mining and agricultural communities.
Mr Delane said it would be silly to believe there wouldn't be conflict between the two industries such as those for land and water resources.
But he said there were benefits that arose from the presence of mining operations such as job creation and various economic benefits.
"When a mine site is established there is a lot of new infrastructure that comes with it," he said.
"Often new or larger ports, transport networks, new accommodation as well as whole new towns and all of the services that come with that, including water supplies and emergency services.
"Sometimes they are short term sometimes they are longer term, but infrastructure that is put there for a mine is exactly the type of infrastructure that you need for an agricultural community.
"Sometimes it can mean giant leaps forward in agriculture or some other area as a result of mining."
Alcoa Farmlands manager Tony Hiscock said his company contributed to and worked with the local communities.
Alcoa owns and manages 19,000 hectares of buffer land throughout the South West and runs a 12,000-head beef cattle herd.
Mr Hiscock said the Alcoa Farmlands' business had played an important role in the company for more than 30 years and emphasised the benefits of mining operations within a region.
"Where mining has been introduced in some areas it has actually energised the industries within those regions," he said.
"I think that is the key.
"The accomplishments and relationships within the mining sector on a State-wide basis are many and varied and that should always be looked at as a positive.
"Agriculture is a fairly significant winner but it is sometimes coincidentally through other things that are happening, and mining companies don't even realise the benefits they bring to agriculture unless someone tells them.
"The outcomes are always worthy of celebration."
p More stories on the Bread from Stones conference will be published in the next week's Farm Weekly.