The dream of an Ord food bowl could be one step closer with new horticultural land near Kununurra being assessed by the State Government.
A 2008 election promise by Regional Development Minister Brendon Grylls to spend $200 million to expand the irrigation scheme making the Ord the food bowl of the north was undermined by the announcement this year that Chinese company Shanghai Zhongfu was the wining bidder for the 13,400ha of land in the Ord Stage 2 irrigation district— and the crops would not be traditional foodstuffs, but sugar.
In the latest development, the Department of Agriculture and Food has started drilling to assess soil and water on about 6000ha of new land at two locations suitable for growing food crops.
The project is funded by Royalties for Regions.
About 2500ha is east of Kununurra near the Northern Territory border, while the bigger portion of land is accessible via the road to Carlton Hill Station.
Unlike most of the Ord Stage 2 irrigation district, the new land has better draining soils that can be worked throughout the wet season. Principal research scientist Richard George said testing had already identified the land as being suitable for food crops, but not sugar or rice.
“At this stage (we plan to) get the soils right, get the water right and let growers decide which of the species they are currently growing up there or new ones that they want to bring in,” he said.
Early testing suggests groundwater supplies would not be sufficient to support the farms, so water would need to be piped in.
Environmental approvals and native title agreements would need to be processed before any development could occur.
More field work at both sites will help identify how to avoid damaging soil, water and environmental assets.
The same process was carried out on Ord Stage 2 land. “Studies recently published in five technical reports have already resulted in improved management systems to reduce potential risks, more effective farmland designs and ensured necessary environmental approvals (for Ord Stage 2),” Dr George said.