A BREAKTHROUGH deal has been signed in Derby which will help develop a template for West Kimberley pastoral projects and build the State's international beef trade.
The WA Government signed a formal research deal on Friday with the Mowanjum Aboriginal Corporation to begin a unique Royalties for Regions' Water for Food project.
In a landmark opportunity for the north, a stand-and-graze irrigation trial will be conducted at the 55,000 hectare Mowanjum Pastoral station through the government's $40 million Water for Food initiative.
The four-year initiative aims to create new irrigation precincts and become a launch pad for expanding agricultural and pastoral opportunities in existing districts across WA.
Under the Mowanjum agreement the government has committed $2.7m to build water infrastructure.
"This will pay for the bores, the pumps, fertiliser systems, the clearing, fencing, roads, site development, seeding and also the centre pivot irrigator,'' Water Minister Mia Davies said.
The station will provide $1.3m in operating costs.
The trial results will be published and shared with other organisations, including information about potential models, irrigation data, herd analysis, youth training outcomes and crop research.
"Essentially we are building a business case that can be transferred to other stations, so they can grow their pastoral organisations and capitalise on the work that we are doing with Mowanjum," Ms Davies said.
Ms Davies visited the station on Friday to sign the funding deal.
The Water for Food project, announced in July, 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.
It aims to create jobs and a strong future for Derby and lift productivity in the Kimberley.
The irrigation trial will include the installation of a 38ha centre-pivot system to access under-utilised groundwater, which will enable the station to grow dry season fodder, graze stock and slowly increase its herd count from almost 3000 head up to 15,000.
Ms Davies said the Mowanjum irrigation project was moving from a vision to a reality.
"One of the reasons why we were willing to partner with Mowanjum was because they had a plan to expand their herd, and part of our plan is trying to assist them with that," Ms Davies said.
"The project will provide a robust business case and will share knowledge such as crop research, irrigation data, herd analysis and the outcome of youth training modules with other stations to help stimulate the use of irrigation to capitalise on the South East Asia and China markets.
"The project provides training for young people from the local district that will equip them for jobs in this State and the wider employment market."
Water for Food is a key component of the State Government's Seizing the Opportunity in Agriculture initiative.
It aims to create new food production centres in the Rangelands, where 452 pastoral leases cover nearly 87 million hectares.
Ms Davies said the production bores would be drilled and the centre pivot site established next month.
The centre pivot is due to be commissioned in May.
"I am keen to make sure we keep progressing this," she said.
"My commitment to the Mowanjum people is that we will drive this as hard as we can, to make sure we keep to our milestones, because we want to see the outcomes of the delivery of a positive and sustainable job future for the communities.
"It is my personal undertaking and I have a real interest in this project, I think it is pretty significant."
Regional Development Minister Terry Redman said the primary objective of the Water for Food program was to identify resources, irrigation technologies and land tenure options that would lift productivity in WA's agricultural sector.
"Royalties for Regions is investing in agricultural development and diversification opportunities to increase economic stability and create sustainable regional communities," Mr Redman said.
Agriculture and Food Minister Ken Baston said developing agriculture in northern WA was critical for the State's long-term food security and economic prosperity.