Potential irrigators in the greenfields Flinders River area have been urged to look back at history in order to go forward, as opportunity beckons with the release of 239,000ML of unallocated water to take place before June next year.
An investment forum held at Julia Creek recently began on an exhilarating note, with Flinders shire mayor Greg Jones declaring that north west Queensland could feed the world if it were given the opportunity to realise its opportunities, and continued when state Department of Agriculture representative Greg Mason said the region was in a real position to deliver grains, pulses and fibre, the first two to ready Asian markets.
Some of his optimism was based on the example of Richmond’s cropping pioneer Corbett Tritton, who Greg said “never flinched from his vision”.
“He has demonstrated what you could grow, and how to link it back to grazing and feedlotting,” he said.
He outlined lessons learnt from DAF trials to date, including shorter planting opportunities, the need for double cropping to maximise water, and having inputs close at hand because of distance constraints, all tips which commentators said were necessary for confident investment.
Others questioned the local knowledge of things such as ring tanks, which were “as stroppy as a Brahman cow”, and of different cropping technologies, but it was felt most of these things could be learnt.
During the panel discussion looking at the advantages and disadvantages of greenfields development, Rabobank Townsville representative Craig Burkhardt said there were good opportunities to do things right the first time.
“There would be uncertainty over viability and returns. If we can prove the returns are there, investors will come.
“From the outside looking in, you need to get as much commercially-based information as possible.”
For Austrade’s Luisa Rust, Australia’s regulated environment and the time taken to get approvals and land cleared was a negative for investors.
She also said there was an expectation that there would be a relaxation of costs, and that local government must work with interested parties.
Host mayor Belinda Murphy, McKinlay shire concluded the day with the observation that 115 people had spent a day in 42 degree heat, saying that demonstrated a will that people want things to happen.
“Now we need more ‘pigs’ that are committed to developing agriculture in the north west than ‘chickens’ who are just involved,” she said.
One of those most committed is the AACo, which has already been successful in securing 19,200ML for Dalgonally station in the 2013 water release.
Innovation and technology general manager Gerard Davis told the forum the company saw the releases as an opportunity to value-add to their supply chains and give back to the community at the same time.
“We would be looking at things such as accelerated heifer development and bringing breeding forward a year by putting weight on,” he said. “The key is the ability to de-risk our supply chains.”
He added that drought conditions were even more of a reason to look for development via irrigated agriculture.
Successful tenderers for the 239,000ML of Flinders River unallocated water will be those who not only offer the best price but who demonstrate they will make the best possible use of that water.
Department of Natural Resources officer Shannon Dempster went through the terms of sale with attendees at the forum, explaining it was only landowners who could apply for the water.
“The licence is tradeable, so if, for whatever reason, an enterprise doesn’t get up, the water can be sold on,” she said.
“The department will be looking at vegetation management and whether there are any limitations on applications received.
“Other approvals you might need are easements across other land.”
Successful tenderers will be given a draft water licence listing conditions, to give prospective users an opportunity to see if the rules suit before accepting or not.
In the case of someone declining, Ms Dempster said the department would move to the next tenderer.
“That’s why we’re asking people to provide minimum and maximum volumes they’d accept,” she said.
Ms Dempster fielded a number of questions about the movement in the price of water from the last release in 2012, believed to have been around $35/ML to a minimum price this time of $45/ML.
“The first time this was done we were just looking at cost recovery, not the return on investment to investors,” she said. “This is a completely different process.”
The story Flinders River investors urged to look at history | Photos first appeared on North Queensland Register.