THE WA Government will investigate water and land resources, alternative land tenure options and approvals resolution on pastoral stations in an effort to unlock potential for food production in the north.
The $40 million Water for Food initiative, announced on the weekend, is a four-year program that will create potential for new irrigation precincts and become a launch pad for expanding agricultural and pastoral opportunities in existing districts across WA.
The program's objective is to identify water and land resources and irrigation technologies to enable WA's fresh food and animal protein production to increase its contribution to regional economies by at least 50 per cent by 2025.
It is hoped the project will attract private and public sector investment into new large-scale irrigated agriculture precincts and the expansion of existing areas by identifying the quantity and quality of water resources.
Water Minister Mia Davies and Regional Development Minister Terry Redman launched the first stage of the Water for Food program at Mowanjum Pastoral Company near Derby on Saturday.
Ms Davies said the pastoral lease of the future would not only run stock but would contain commercial-scale irrigation islands where a diverse range of cash crops and high value food crops could be run alongside fodder.
"In WA we have the most incredible market opportunity in China and South East Asia and an opportunity to embrace irrigation at a scale far beyond what is estimated as 50,000 hectares under irrigation today," Ms Davies said.
"When we first started looking at this I was amazed to know that if you mapped out the land that was available and the quality of the land that was available for water we should be closer to 10 million ha in WA and yet we are only at 50,000ha.
"So there is your opportunity and that is why this is so exciting."
Pastoral stations in the West Kimberley will be the first to benefit from the scheme and will receive $15.5 million under the first phase of the program to increase their capacity to become major players in the beef export supply chain to China and South East Asia.
The first stage of the scheme will focuse on four projects in the West Kimberley.
The Mowanjum Pastoral Company will host an irrigation trial under a research agreement with the State Government and will receive $3.6 million over the next four years.
The Government also announced it would invest a further $2.8 million to investigate water supply in the Knowsley Agricultural Area (KAA).
The KAA is an area of unallocated Crown land that runs from Derby to Curtin Air Base, and according to Ms Davies provided potential for future irrigation and intensive cropping.
"This project aims to identify water supply options and de-risk suitable land parcels within a 5000ha envelope for irrigated development," she said.
"Knowsley provides potential for stage irrigation development and intensive horticulture and high-value, dry-land cropping at a scale that's likely to be attractive to third party investors if sufficient water can be identified."
Ms Davies said $6.1 million would be made available to pastoralists in the Fitzroy Valley over the next four years to confirm groundwater availability and increase confidence amongst pastoral station owners wanting to diversify their operations and lift productivity.
"Significant capital is required for irrigated fodder development and decisions to leverage into stock feed and higher value cropping will require certainty of water supply, alternative land tenure and approvals resolution," she said.
"While not much is known about water availability in the Fitzroy Valley more work is required to define the potential to harvest and store floodwater from the river and draw from its alluvial aquifers.
"The project will build on existing Department of Water data along the Fitzroy River between Willare and Fitzroy Crossing which has identified a potential 200 gigalitre/year of available water in the alluvium, with a yield of between 25 and 50gL in the 50km upstream from Willare."
* More in this week's Farm Weekly.