HARVEST of Queensland’s northern most sorghum crop is underway, with hopes the project signals the start of a new industry for Cape York Peninsula.
Paul Ryan is the driving force behind a 31,800 hectare dryland farming project on his family’s Olive Vale Station at Laura.
The 150 ha forage sorghum crop is a trial but Mr Ryan has every confidence it will prove successful.
“It’s been a great growing season,” Mr Ryan told the Queensland Country Life. “We’ve grown for fodder and will be baling that in next few weeks.”
The 150 ha is just the tip of the iceberg, with plans to increase plantings next year to a minimum of 2000 ha, as staff and contractors receive training.
The Ryan family arrived on Cape York ten years ago. They were attracted by water.
“We are predominantly from Central Queensland, not born and bred farmers though its an industry we like and bought into,” Mr Ryan said. “Why the Cape? It rains every year. Water is absolutely critical.”
The Ryan family sounded out the State Government on a cropping proposal. Initially it was based on sugar cane, but water and infrastructure requirements associated with cane meant it was prohibitive so the proposal was modified to sorghum.
A clearing permit was granted, and work started in April 2015, on the first stage, 1800 ha, land which is currently being developed.
“As we got to know the property better and the road turned up, we could see other properties growing grain in south western Queensland and we thought we could do that here, the soils are here,” said Mr Ryan, who also owns Retreat, Longreach.
“The expansion into cropping was partly due to drought in western Queensland. This gives us the option to finish cattle in the north.
“The finished article will leave Olive Vale and with the infrastructure turning up like the Peninsula Developmental Road (upgrade), we can see there was an opening to move into other avenues and other income.”
Olive Vale has an active research program. It is trialing wild rice varieties and looking to establish mung bean trials as well. It is currently negotiating with the Queensland University of Technology for commercial size trials of tropical crops.
While the dryland farming project will directly benefit Olive Vale, Mr Ryan’s vision is much greater.
“The long term goal is to complete the project,” Mr Ryan said. “As we build up and build our own facilities like grain silos, a feedlot and harvesting infrastructure, there is nothing wrong with neighbours that may want to do it on a smaller scale.
“They will be able to do that because they don’t have to purchase any of the infrastructure and equipment that is required.
“As the road develops, Weipa becomes a viable option for live export. It’s a deep water port, no dredging is required and there is triple road train access.
“It just needs improvements in the road to improve reliability and fodder.”
The company’s employee numbers are currently at about 30 increasing to 45 seasonally of which about 40 per cent is Indigenous (predominantly from Laura and Hope Vale). Paul estimates the workforce will grow to 100 when the farming project is completed in five years.
“We have local traditional owners on staff, they have to be involved,” Mr Ryan said. “There needs to be greater opportunities for their own communities to do projects similar to this as well.”
Mr Ryan and his family have been prime targets for green groups in the campaign against land clearing.
But Mr Ryan said most landholders wanted to improve their land, not degrade it.
“The last thing we would want is for the soil to wash away out into the reef so we are doing everything we can to stop that,” Mr Ryan said.
“We are well clear of waterways.
“Most people only listen to what’s out there on social media. Most farmers are too busy actually doing the job then spending their time on social media.”