ROMA graziers Ree and Leon Price had very little farming experience when Santos approached them four years ago with plans for irrigation development on their 12,555-hectare property, Mt Hope, north-west of Roma.
Councillor Ree Price told delegates at the Leucaena Network Conference in Roma on Friday irrigation in their area was an "unheard-of entity", with no river inside a 100-kilometre radius.
"We voiced our concerns to Santos about this lack of experience and they assured us that they would provide us with the necessary people to achieve our and their objectives," Cr Price said.
In their first partnership with a private landholder using coal seam gas (CSG) water, Santos has constructed a fully lined dam on Mt Hope with a capacity for 240 megalitres of water.
The project includes a pivot irrigation system, covering an area of approximately 70ha and an additional 30ha with sub surface drip irrigation on leucaena while the plants are in the establishment phase. A further 130ha of irrigation are planned for the future.
The Prices run 2500 head of mixed Droughtmaster cattle on Mt Hope and aim to turn off export trade bullocks by 30-months. They hope to lift the turn-off rate and carrying capacity and grow hay for weaners and silage for dry times.
"We're also really looking forward to seeing the benefits of adding leucaena to our beef enterprise. We expect to be able to turn off export grade bullocks at a younger age on a more regular basis and free up paddock space for the younger cattle," she said.
"We envisage that the irrigation will in some part help to drought-proof our operation."
But the project has not been all smooth sailing.
Fifty hectares of leucaena planted last year was washed out by heavy rain soon after planting. There there were also times when the Prices' views differed to Santos.
Their biggest concerns were about the effect of the work on underground aquifers, loss of bore pressure, depletion of water levels, possible salinity and co-existence at busy times on the calendar. There were also concerns about security with upgraded road networks, positioning of well sites around cultivation, foreign weeds and compensation.
Despite these issues, Cr Price said the CSG industry inclusion at Mt Hope had provided her family with an income stream that was not previously available - and one not connected to the weather.
"The inclusion of irrigated forage crops into the mix has shored up our family's future on the land - it has given us more options and a more positive outlook for the coming generations."