AN Agri-Innovation Precinct (AIP) with genetics and food security research programs at its core is likely to be one of the first developments in the Peel Business Park (PBP) at Nambeelup.
Interest in the AIP concept being developed by Murray Shire council and DevelopmentWA as part of stage one of the PBP, has been so great, more sites in future land releases may need to be allocated for expansion of the AIP.
The first 10 lots of the 120 hectare first stage of the PBP north of Lakes Road and west of Gull Road were released for sale by DevelopmentWA last October - there are two left not under contract - with property titles expected to be released in June.
The Murray Shire used part of a $21.75 million Federal government Regional Growth Fund grant to purchase lot 38 in the first PBP land release for the AIP.
The AIP will be next to the $18m Bushfire Centre of Excellence, announced last month by the State government for lot 37 of the PBP and expected to open next year to help train volunteer and professional firefighters and to share experience and research from around Australia on bushfires.
The Bushfire Centre of Excellence will be the first training centre of its kind in Australia and the first building in the PBP.
The AIP, Bushfire Centre of Excellence and surrounding developments will be powered by an innovative industrial microgrid with a one megawatt solar farm, two megawatt hour battery storage system and Western Power back up.
A consortium headed by Enwave Australia was appointed last September to develop the microgrid with its proposed base on another first-release lot opposite the AIP.
The microgrid is expected to cut annual power bills by 30 per cent for businesses and developments which establish in stage one of the PBP.
Murray Shire's manager investment attraction David Arkwright said the AIP would comprise three buildings, at this stage called the innovation centre, the research and development centre and the production and storage centre.
The concept has been developed in conjunction with Murdoch University which is one of three organisations already intending to lease space when the AIP opens in 2022, Mr Arkwright said.
Subject to final designs and costings expected soon, the AIP will house Murdoch-led science laboratories, food product research and small-batch production facilities, offices and co-working spaces, business incubator facilities, cold and dry storage facilities, meeting rooms, public presentation areas and a café.
"We see the café as an important venue in relation to facilitating the exchange of ideas and knowledge and promoting interaction between researchers and start ups," said Mr Arkwright.
"(But) protecting IP (intellectual property) will be one of our areas of focus within the AIP."
He said Murdoch University is looking to move part of the Australian National Phenome Centre (ANPC), currently located at Fiona Stanley Hospital's Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research, to the AIP.
Apart from research on how genes interact with environment factors in human diseases like cancer, Alzheimer's, autism, obesity and Type 2 diabetes, the ANPC's research has potential flow through to agriculture, particularly in areas like impact of climate change on livestock and grains production, animal and crop biosecurity and protecting food provenance along supply chains.
Mr Arkwright said Murdoch was also looking to move WA's State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre (SABC) from the university to the AIP.
The SABC is a collaborative of 15-20 research groups and companies investigating molecular activity related to primary production of commercial livestock, crop plants or microbes and it supports research in biosecurity, biomedical sciences and environmental biotechnology fields.
As well, Mr Arkwright said, Murdoch plans to move some of its Bachelor of Food Science and Nutrition course off-campus to the AIP in the future.
The Future Food Systems CRC, initiated by the New South Wales Farmers' Association and created in March last year with 60 founding participants including Murdoch University, is also earmarked to establish one of its peri-urban hubs at the AIP, he said.
Headed by National Farmers' Federation president Fiona Simpson as chairwoman, the Future Food Systems CRC is proposing to establish hubs in WA, New South Wales, Victoria and Northern Territory to develop regional food plans.
The aim is to help build local production capacity, value-adding processing opportunities and export capability through a collaborative approach for stakeholders from existing food production regions.
The other two prospective AIP opening tenants, Mr Arkwright said, are Fund Singapore and ManukaLife.
Fund Singapore is a crowdfunding equity platform which specialises in providing finance for start-up businesses and ManukaLife partners with South West farmers to plant Leptospermum tea tree - commonly called Manuka tea tree - to produce honey which in future may be licenced for medicinal uses.
Mr Arkwright said the council in conjunction with DevelopmentWA is also hoping to establish a $4m innovation fund as part of an enterprise support program to encourage entrepreneurs and small to medium enterprises (SMEs) leasing space in the AIP.
It was envisaged entrepreneurs and SMEs locating in the AIP will be able to apply of up to $50,000 from the fund on a dollar-for-dollar basis to help them get research or initial production started.
"We are aware there are some very clever people with very good ideas but they lack the working capital to commercialise those ideas," Mr Arkwright said.
"That is where the fund could facilitate.
"In fact, the AIP concept has attracted a lot of interest from a variety of people and organisations," he said.
"It is at a stage now where we may have to look at allocating more sites in future PBP land releases to allow for expansion of the AIP."
Mr Arkwright said Murray Shire and DevelopmentWA were also talking to the CY O'Connor ERADE (Education, Research And Development, Employment) Village Foundation which is proposing to develop a $26m collaborative multi-disciplinary research cluster at North Dandalup called the North Dandalup Centre for Innovation in Agriculture.
As previously reported in Farm Weekly, the AIP as part of the PBP on the west side and the North Dandalup agricultural research centre on the east side, will bookend the 42,000ha proposed Peel Food Zone.
The CY O'Connor ERADE Village Foundation centre's current research is focused on genetic improvement in livestock - particularly in eating quality of the meat - and in pastures improvement.
"We don't see the situation with the AIP and the North Dandalup centre as competitive, rather we see it as complementary," Mr Arkwright said.
p Two Peel Region Scheme amendments approved by Planning Minister Rita Saffioti earlier this month more than doubled the amount of industrial-zoned land set aside for PBP development to a total of 870ha.
One amendment rezoned 378ha north of Murrayfield airport and the other rezoned 201ha south of the airport.
Stage one, including the AIP, is on the western edge of the PBP closest to Kwinana Freeway and Mandurah.
Expressions of interest are being accepted for the second land release of stage one.