Clear run for new farmland

WA is on the cusp of its biggest agricultural land releases in decades as the State Government shows a growing appetite for unlocking hundreds of thousands of hectares for farming.

In addition to land being allocated for irrigation projects which could cover 100,000ha in the north of WA, the Government is considering releasing 200,000ha of crown land near Esperance for farming.

The land targeted for release around Cascade covers the equivalent of a third of Perth's sprawling metropolitan area.

It is surrounded by thriving farms in a 350mm to 400mm-a-year rainfall zone. Based on recent sales of $1500 per cropping hectare in the region, it would be worth up to $300 million minus development costs.

The Goldfields-Esperance Development Commission, the Shire of Esperance and the local chamber of commerce pushed for the land release at a regional Cabinet meeting in the town in June. It is understood the proposal has gained considerable traction within Government.

Esperance shire president Malcolm Heasman said the land was anything but marginal and opening it up would provide a big boost to the local economy.

Mr Heasman said five areas within the shire boundary had been identified for conversion to farm land. The land had been gazetted for farms in the past but never released.

Mr Heasman said the initial reaction from Cabinet ministers and Government moves to open up land for farming in the north encouraged the shire and GEDC to pursue the release.

He said much more was known about land-clearing for farming than in the 1970s and 80s. It is understood the land is largely free from native title complications.

The Government has earmarked vast tracts of the Kimberley for irrigated agriculture. Its Water for Food project also targets land in the Gascoyne, Pilbara, Midlands, Peel, around Myalup and Warren-Donnelly.

Department of Agriculture and Food WA principal research scientist Richard George said sustainable use of natural resources was vital to plans to realise northern WA's potential for Asia- focused food production.

Dr George told the UWA Institute of Agriculture forum this week: "The volume of relatively accessible, low-salinity water available in northern WA is approximately 1600 gigalitres. Depending on the cropping systems, this amount of water could irrigate more than 100,000ha."

The West Australian

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