Article – NQ’s irrigation potential

11 February 2014
North Queensland Register

IRRIGATED crops could be grown in southern Gulf pastoral areas of North Queensland by maximising water storage, according to a new study of the area’s agricultural potential.

While thousands of hectares of soil are potentially suitable for irrigated agriculture across northern Australia, access to sufficient water constrains development.
A CSIRO study of land and water resources in the Flinders and Gilbert river catchments shows up to 50,000 hectares could be irrigated, potentially producing a wide range of crops.
The two-year, $6.8 million project, involving more than 100 scientists, has delivered an evaluation of the feasibility, economic viability and sustainability of agricultural development in the Flinders and Gilbert catchments of NQ.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development Warren Truss said the study was the most comprehensive assessment yet of opportunities for new irrigated agriculture in NQ.
“It fills a lot of gaps in our knowledge of this important region,” Mr Truss said when launching the Flinders and Gilbert Agricultural Resource Assessment findings.
“The CSIRO work has confirmed future possibilities for irrigated and non-irrigated crops grossing millions of dollars in the Flinders and Gilbert rivers catchments.
“However, while the opportunities look positive, the harsh and variable climate will always make farming a challenge in this region.”
The two-year study was conducted by the CSIRO with input from researchers in the Queensland government and TropWATER at James Cook University.
The researchers found there is similar future potential, though greater in magnitude, to the current Ord River Irrigation Area in the north of Western Australia, where $100 million in produce is grown each year over 14,000 hectares of irrigated land from Lake Argyle on the Ord River.
“While commitments would be premature at this early stage, the report gives us an excellent framework to focus on boosting agriculture in North Queensland,” Mr Truss said.
“The report also highlights a range of issues, such as potential downstream impacts on the Commonwealth prawn fishery in the Gulf of Carpentaria, that will require further study if development is to proceed.”
Queensland Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry John McVeigh said the potential irrigation opportunities could make a big difference to the region in terms of jobs and economic development.
Mr McVeigh said the report recommended different water storage options for the two catchments because of the different weather and landscape.
“Despite their close proximity, CSIRO found the Flinders and Gilbert catchments differed significantly, and while in-stream dams might work in the Gilbert, smaller, off-stream storage was the best option in the Flinders,” Mr McVeigh said.
Two potential dam sites were identified in the Gilbert that would allow up to 30,000 hectares to be cropped in most years – sufficient to sustain a sugar mill or cotton gin.
The report said damming the Flinders was not commercially viable under any future scenario and off-stream storages filled from seasonal floodwaters were the best option.
“Under this approach, there’s potential to crop up to 20,000 hectares in all but very dry years,” Mr McVeigh said.
Mr McVeigh said the report indicated the catchment areas had the potential to boost irrigated agriculture across northern Australia by as much as 30 per cent.
The Flinders and Gilbert Agricultural Resource Assessment reports are available
Courtesy of the North Queensland Register