Pioneering innovation: Surveying Rhodes grass at Tipperary in the Northern Territory. Picture: NT Farmers Association.

Pioneering innovation: Surveying Rhodes grass at Tipperary in the Northern Territory. Picture: NT Farmers Association.

Balancing our environment whilst growing our food futures

Balancing our environment whilst growing our food futures

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Never has the opportunity for sustainable development in agriculture been more relevant or more important. With the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic decimating government revenues across all levels of government the opportunity to revisit agricultural development in Northern Australia is critical.

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This is sponsored content for the Northern Territory Farmers Association.

The Northern Territory Farmers Association, in partnership with ORDCO, is bringing Australia's key stakeholders, thought leaders and investors together for the Food Futures Conference in Darwin in May with the focus on delivering a billion dollar industry by 2030. The association's CEO Paul Burke outlines the critical issues and challenges on the agenda.

Never has the opportunity for sustainable development in agriculture been more relevant or more important. With the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic decimating government revenues across all levels of government the opportunity to revisit agricultural development in Northern Australia is critical.

'Success is possible': Paul Burke

'Success is possible': Paul Burke

Agriculture has the potential to drive our regional economies through jobs, investment and increased farm gate revenues to support and enable government expenditure on services that are critical for a functioning society, such as health, education, roads and law enforcement.

With development, comes the responsibility for caring for our country and ensuring that these developments are sustainable and minimise risk to the environment.

For well over 150 years, cattle grazing has been the predominant land use in Northern Australia. This industry has been the cornerstone of regional and remote parts of Australia providing employment and supporting local community businesses in our harsh climate.

Up until 1980, the Northern Territory plant industry was nonexistent. Through hard work and perseverance, a group of innovative growers established mango operations and Asian vegetables. Today the NT's horticultural industry has expanded to include a diverse range of fruit, vegetables, nursery products, turf and hay and represents a $450 million dollar industry.

NT Farmers plan to grow this $450 million industry to a billion dollar industry by 2030 whilst respecting traditional owners' rights and protecting the environment that we all, as Northern Australians, so love.

After all, the environmental beauty of North Australia is one of the reasons, we all call this part of the world home. This begs the question, "How can we achieve this balance between the environment and agriculture development?"

Through hard work and perseverance, a group of innovative growers have successfully established mango operations in the Northern Territory. Picture: NT Farmers Association

Through hard work and perseverance, a group of innovative growers have successfully established mango operations in the Northern Territory. Picture: NT Farmers Association

The pathways are not simple, however the inclusion of all stakeholders in the process and working towards generating prosperity for everyone is a good starting point. Agriculture has been slow to develop in North Australia but organisations that have started small and grown big over time have showed it is possible.

There are great examples of this such as Humpty Doo Barramundi, the Northern Australian Mango industry, Asian vegetables and the list goes on. Success is possible and a group of new developers are pioneering new crops and agricultural systems specifically for our environment.

The successful modern cotton industry has been instrumental in driving innovation and developing agricultural production systems that work with the environment, not against it.

In the North, dryland cotton is planted to take advantage of the monsoonal events that are consistent across much of the region and ensures irrigation is minimised, if needed at all. Breakthrough advancements in seed knowledge and genetics have resulted in the drastic reduction of chemical inputs. This has resulted in a new industry emerging in the North that will continue to grow and prosper.

NT Farmers are advocating for the development of agricultural precincts, where the soils, slope and seasonality are right, and where availability of water is abundant, remembering that water is our comparative advantage in Northern Australia.

We all know that when it rains in the tropics, it really rains and so much of this water runs off and out to sea. By capturing a small percentage of this water in on-farm water storages we can dramatically increase our area of production, minimise our impact on the environment, and grow our regional economies to make our communities more livable places for all.

Soybeans under cultivation in the Katherine district. Picture: NT Farmers Association.

Soybeans under cultivation in the Katherine district. Picture: NT Farmers Association.

Well-planned agricultural precincts are the solution to developing the North but challenges remain to making this a reality. Land tenure is difficult and different to what many investors are familiar with, however there is a solution is called an ILUA, Indigenous Land Use Agreement. The proposed prawn farm, Seafarms, in the Northern Territory negotiated this process in a very timely manner that has given surety of tenure now and into the future.

Tree clearing is complex but not insurmountable with a well-constructed application completed by a qualified environmental consultant. In many areas, governments have progressed with water planning, and processes exist to secure water for development. All these processes can be improved and streamlined to de-risk agricultural development, without compromising a robust approvals process.

The Northern Territory Farmers Association, in partnership with ORDCO, have bought Australia's key stakeholders, thought leaders and investors together for the 2021 Food Futures Conference in Darwin from the May 17 to 20 to discuss these issues and many more. We want to understand how success can be achieved and shape the conversation to ensure we can deliver a billion dollar industry by 2030.

The theme for this year's conference is "Balancing Agricultural Development whilst protecting the Environment". We welcome every stakeholder along to this interactive and informative conference, whether you are a farmer, investor, developer, Traditional Owner, environmentalist or just interested in improving our economy in Northern Australia. We look forward to shaping the conversation with you all.

This is sponsored content for the Northern Territory Farmers Association.

The story Balancing our environment whilst growing our food futures first appeared on The Land.

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