THE State Government is backing a project to grow crops in the desert with $12.5 million committed for desert irrigation projects in the east Pilbara.
The Royalties for Region (RFR) funds will be used to establish 150 hectares of crop production on Warrawagine station, Marble Bar.
Robin Mills, Warrawagine station, said it was an exciting opportunity to be involved in a project that would drought-proof his property and increase his beef production.
"The biggest thing I see is that you will be able to maintain the condition of the lactating females if you have a drought season," Mr Mills said.
"It gives you a back-up feed supply so you can increase your calving percentages and improve survival and weaning rate.
"At the end of the day they are the most critical parts of our industry."
The initial stages of the project would consist of three 40ha pivots and Mr Mills hoped the first crop would be sown in April.
Water for irrigation would come from Woodie Woodie mine, located on Warrawagine, which is licensed to discharge 60 gigalitres of groundwater a year.
Agricultural and Food Minister Ken Baston said surplus water from mine de-watering offered a largely untapped resource.
"This is about teaming agriculture with mining to grow fodder for the pastoral industry and biofuel for the resource sector," he said.
"The knowledge uncovered through these pilot projects will be vital to WA being able to develop systems for world-leading irrigated agriculture,"
Regional Development Minister Brendon Grylls said the Woodie Woodie trial would measure sorghum fodder production potential as a means of drought-proofing and expanding Pilbara beef herds.
"The Pilbara economy is overwhelmingly reliant on the mining industry at present," he said.
"Industrial diversification through irrigated agriculture is crucial in securing economic sustainability for the region's growing population."
The project had also attracted interest from a Belgian banking company and engineering firm which was looking to convert the sorghum into energy.
Mr Mills said converting biomass into energy could reduce the cost of diesel fuel by between 60 and 70 per cent.
"That energy could then be fed back into the mine," he said.
Mr Baston and Mr Grylls announced the funding under the Pilbara Hinterland Agricultural Development Initiative (PHADI) earlier this week.
PHADI will be run by the Department of Agriculture and Food in partnership with the Pilbara Development Commission and Department of Regional Development.