The West Australian © Kununurra melon and bean farmer David Menzel looks over water flowing into a new irrigation channel built for the expansion of the Ord River irrigation scheme. David Menzel is happy for governments to look at using the regionâs abundant water elsewhere but not at the expense of local growers. Picture: Nathan Dyer. FOR COUNTRYMAN
WA Nationals have pinned their election hopes on $300 million in promises aimed at helping farmers and rural communities cash in on booming demand for food in Asia.
One of the keys to the agriculture policy, due to be released today as the centrepiece of the Nationals' election campaign, is allowing greater foreign investment in WA agriculture through deals similar to the one which saw a Chinese-owned company win the right to develop prime land on the Ord River in the Kimberley after pledging to build a high-tech sugar mill.
The Nationals also plan to create "Brand WA" to market the State's produce around the world.
Nationals leader Brendon Grylls said WA needed to position itself to feed markets which had driven the mining boom, with predictions WA agricultural export earnings could jump from $6 billion to $18 billion a year in the next two decades.
"The same end consumers of our iron ore and natural gas are moving into the middle class," Mr Grylls said. "Their diets will change and their food expenditure will change considerably and we already have strong trade and investment relationships with these markets.
"The greatest opportunity for regional development will come through the harnessing of those agricultural opportunities."
The Nationals' policy, to be funded through the Royalties for Regions account over five years, allocates $75 million to improving port, road and rail infrastructure.
Mr Grylls conceded that a lot more would be needed for the agriculture industry to reach its full potential but said State funding would be used to leverage investment from the Federal Government and the private sector in the same way it had in the expansion of the Ord River irrigation scheme.
The $311 million Royalties for Regions investment in the Ord attracted $200 million in Federal funding and a $700 million investment pledge from Kimberley Agricultural Investments to establish a sugar industry and high-tech mill.The Nationals would also back expansion of live exports through a $15 million beef industry development centre in Broome and a $10 million sheep industry development centre in Katanning.
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