Monday, February 08, 2010

Large Scale Northern Rural Development to Be Damned - Not Dammed

Early media reports [ see below] seem to have really put the kybosh on large scale northern agricultural development.

No, the greenies did not seems the resources are just not adequate.

There will be many views about the report, and whether it will seriously curtail even limited development and the expenditure of further R and D funds in the region. Will the region be limited to few people and an extraction mentality forever? A place to visit and never live and work even? More fly in fly out operations in almost everything?

Unfortunately the report is not yet available..........we need to rely on advance media speculation and comments from inside players. Many who do have a vested interest in Australian temperate agriculture.

But see the tenor of the early media materials...........


NORTHERN Australia will never become an important food bowl to replace the drought-stricken Murray-Darling, despite massive irrigation plans and a billion litres of rain a year, a Rudd government taskforce has concluded.

The expert panel, comprising the Northern Australian Land and Water Taskforce, will today release a landmark report into economic opportunities for the northern parts of Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia that places new and strict limits on the region's potential for agricultural production.

There is some good news amid the gloomy outlook for Top End food production, with the report predicting that northern Australia's billion-dollar beef industry - in which cattle live on native grasses - will more than double production by 2030.

Committee member Stuart Blanch said yesterday: "Northern Australia can never be a food bowl for Southeast Asia or anywhere else because we just don't have enough water. But we can be world's best-practice environment managers and beef producers; there are thousands of indigenous jobs to be created."

Referring to a water study by the CSIRO, the taskforce concludes the growth of agricultural production in the north will be limited, despite rainfall of up to 2m a year in some areas. By 2030, there will be less water available in the north than there was in 2000, the taskforce predicts.

Though the north receives about a billion litres of rain a year, equivalent to eight-and-a-half times the annual runoff in the Murray-Darling Basin or 2000 times the capacity of Sydney Harbour, about 20 per cent of it enters the rivers and streams and about 15 per cent recharges groundwater resources. The remaining 65 per cent enters the soil and is absorbed by plants.
"Despite these huge volumes of water, the north can be described as being water-limited," the report states. The taskforce says this paradox arises because there is almost no rain for the remaining six months."Evaporation and plant transpiration is so high throughout the year that, on average, for 10 months of the year, there is very little water to be seen," it states.
"Most rainfall occurs near the coasts and on floodplains, so much of it runs quickly to the sea, making it hard to capture."

The CSIRO water study, presented to the taskforce last year, found there was not enough water to irrigate large swaths of land in the north without doing major damage to the rivers and the surrounding environment. The report rules out more dams on environmental grounds and finds the maximum area that can be irrigated from groundwater in the north is 60,000ha, about three times the area currently irrigated from groundwater.

It also estimates the portion of the population employed by the government in northern Australia will drop to 25 per cent in that time, compared with 40 per cent in 2000, as new oil and gas ventures emerge in the Kimberley and bauxite developments in Cape York contribute to export income.

Two out of three people in the north of Australia will be employed in either the oil and gas sector, mining, conservation, fisheries, agriculture, tourism and recreation or in the management of the land and sea within 20 years, the taskforce predicts.

This will reduce indigenous disadvantage through education, training and employment in regions where up to 50 per cent of the population will be Aboriginal.

Reaction to the taskforce's predictions about food production are likely to be watched closely in Western Australia, where the second stage of the Ord River irrigation scheme is under way near the Kimberley town of Kununurra. The Rudd government has promised $195 million towards the project to irrigate about 8000ha of land for agriculture, and the Barnett government will contribute $220m. There are 14,000ha of land from the first stage of the Ord River scheme producing fruits, vegetables, seeds and sugarcane.

Despite reporting considerable constraints, the taskforce predicts food production could still grow by 40 per cent within 20 years in northern Australia.

The taskforce suggests expanding agricultural production by developing small-scale mosaic agriculture. It also recommends intensifying production in the beef industry through the irrigated production of fodder crops across the north. An expanded beef industry also provides the potential for sustainable wealth creation in indigenous communities," the taskforce found.

[lower section partially sourced from several media reports early on 8 february 2010]

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