THE Northern Territory government is evaluating investor proposals to develop the third stage of the Ord River Project at Spirit Hills, after the proposal phase of the project closed last month.
Ord Stage 3 is an extension of the Ord Irrigation Scheme, with Stages 1 and 2 located in WA.
In WA, the scheme has provided investors the opportunity to develop a range of premium crops for global markets.
Farm Weekly understands investors have expressed interest in the extension project to develop Stage 3.
Negotiations with preferred proponents will begin in a few weeks and a spokesperson for the NT's Department of the Chief Minister said the process should be completed by July.
"For reasons of probity and process integrity, the NT government cannot discuss any aspect of Ord Stage 3 until such time as the request for proposal process has been completed and the government has reached a decision around the next steps," the spokesperson said.
The government is exploring the opportunity to expand the Ord River Irrigation Scheme across about 14,500 hectares, north-east of its WA operations.
It is the first agricultural development in the NT to achieve major project status and is being co-ordinated by the Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries.
The NT believe Ord Stage 3 will provide premium crops for world markets and employment opportunities in the region, including for the Miriuwung Gajerrong native title holders.
WA Regional Development Minister Terry Redman said highly valued irrigation agriculture was being developed in the North.
"We have released the Ord Stage 2 in full and the next stage is going to the NT in Stage 3," Mr Redman said.
"The NT is working on that and on Cockatoo Sands, out of the Ord Valley, which is another significant opportunity."
The WA government began invested in Ord River infrastructure to release land for irrigated agriculture in the 1960s.
Stage 1 of the project was the development 14,000ha of irrigated farmland.
Crops planted include chickpeas, chia, red grapefruit, mangoes, melons, hybrid seeds and sandalwood.
In 2010, the WA government contributed $322.5 million to build the essential infrastructure to enable the release of 13,400ha of land for irrigated agriculture as part of the Ord Irrigation Expansion Project, known as Ord Stage 2.
Under Stage 2, Kimberley Agricultural Investment (KAI) committed to develop 7,400ha of the Goomig (Weaber Plain) farm area with an option to develop a further 6,000ha at Knox Plain.
After farming about 600ha last season at Stage 2, KAI has finished seeding its chia, quinoa and maize for this season.
After a less than average wet season, KAI worked through its normal off season to prepare land for cropping.
It is farming 1700ha in 2016 - more than doubling the size of its available land.
KAI expect to be farming 4000ha in 2017 , with the balance of the Goomig area ready for cropping in 2018, a total of about 6,700ha.
The Australian, WA and NT governments were working to explore opportunities for the further expansion of irrigated agriculture in the East Kimberley region.
On November 23, 2012, the three governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the Ord.
The MoU sets out a commitment to work together to address key issues in the expansion of Ord irrigation into the NT.
In 2012, The Department of Agriculture and Food started an investigation on 6000ha of red loamy soils - the Cockatoo Sands, near Kununurra.
The WA government has also announced the Bonaparte Plains project as part of its Water for Food program.
Bonaparte Plains is a joint land and water investigation aimed at developing up to 30,000ha of irrigated agriculture.
DAFWA has also been in the process of making detailed agricultural land resource assessments to support decisions on developing the Bonaparte Plains.
Assessments include airborne geophysics, soil and water analyses and related studies.
DAFWA has designed and supported groundwater investigations to assess the aquifers and assess options to take suitable areas to the market, and is working with partners at the Department of Water, Geoscience Australia, Carlton Hill Station stakeholders and the Miriuwung and Gajerrong Corporation.
Ord Stage 3 is aligned with the NT government's Economic Development Strategy and the federal Government's Developing Northern Australia White Paper, which committed up to $5m for a detailed examination of the economic feasibility of the proposed Ord Stage 3 development through the National Water Infrastructure Development Fund.
Premier and State Development Minister Colin Barnett and Mr Redman announced in 2015 the release of a further two parcels of land, the development of about 5000ha of Ord West Bank and Mantinea land.