Cotton is clearly top of the Federal Government's agenda to create a super food bowl in the NT.
The push for more cotton planting in the Territory won even further support from the Government today.
A $1.4 million research program was announced to trial high-value crops such as cotton and peanuts, with potential crop rotations with sorghum, maize, rice, pulses or pasture
The government says the program "could help open up areas of the Territory as a significant grower of broadacre crops".
The government has already given the CSIRO $3.5 million "to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the development potential of the water and soil resources of the Roper River catchment".
The plans for increased irrigation and new broadacre crops is all part of a long-held dream for a super food bowl in the NT.
Many people believe the recent purchase of large cattle stations in the Katherine region by overseas buyers is with an eye to growing broadacre crops like cotton and even rice.
The CSIRO study into a dam on the Roper would potentially open up one million hectares to cropping, the Federal Government believes.
A workshop on growing cotton is being held at the Douglas Daly Research Station today.
There remains many people staunchly opposed to development of cotton and rice growing crops in the Top End.
Katherine hosted a packed public rally opposed to the industry in 2002 which led to the ALP of the time banning the GM crop.
The then NT Government banned cotton growing or dams in the Daly River and halted any further approval for subdivision or clearing until a sustainable land use plan was developed.
Yet another report, one of the very many on the long-held dream of the northern food bowl, was produced to support the ban in 2004.
Genetically modified cotton was being trialed at the time in Katherine, which initially provoked the uproar.
Today, Resources, Water and Northern Australia Minister Keith Pitt said the latest research program would investigate the feasibility of new farming systems which could help broadacre cropping in the Territory.
"This study will be a valuable resource for our agricultural industries and will determine the potential for high-level large scale crops for both dryland farming and with irrigation systems," Mr Pitt said.
"Each of the project participants will bring unique expertise to help develop crop management strategies which will identify and remove some of the risk of broadacre agriculture in the Top End."
The two-year project is being co-funded by the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia, along with theGrains Research and Development Corporation, the Cotton Research and Development Corporation and 14 industry partners.
There have been successful trials growing cotton at the Katherine Research Farm.
There were also moves announced last year to establish a cotton gin in the Katherine region.
Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews said the research project would use a range of field trials and simulation techniques, with an initial focus on rain-fed and irrigated systems growing cotton and peanut crops.
Peanuts were successfully grown on small plots in the Katherine region for many years in the past.
"This research collaboration has the potential to expand Australia's agricultural sector and drive further development, economic growth and jobs in Northern Australia," Minister Andrews said.
"This is also a great example of how government, industry and researchers can work together to help open up Northern Australia and develop new industries."
The study will be the largest CRCNA research collaboration to date. The project partners are:
- Grains Research & Development Corporation
- Cotton Research & Development Corporation
- Northern Territory DPIR
- University of Southern Queensland
- Queensland's Department of Agriculture and Fisheries
- Northern Territory Department of Environment and Natural Resources
- Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
- NT Farmers
- Tipperary Station
- Ruby Downs Station
- Rockyhill Table Grapes
- Edith Springs Station
- Mainoru Station
- Oolloo Farms
- Glen Arden Cattle Company
- Cotton Seed Distributors Limited
- Greening the Northern Australia landscape with broadacre cropping
The Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia says the research could deliver a boon for new broadacre cropping developments across the Territory.
The two-year, $1.4 million project is being co-funded by the CRCNA, the Grains Research and Development Corporatio, the Cotton Research and Development Corporation and 14 industry partners.
Researchers from the NT Department of Primary Industry and Resources will lead a project team from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries (DAF), CSIRO, universities, natural resource groups, industry associations, seed distributors and producers from across the Territory.
DPIR senior research agronomist Dr Ian Biggs said the project is focused on developing cropping systems for growers by building on earlier studies on the agricultural potential across the Katherine/Douglas Daly region, southern and central NT, and CSIRO's Northern Australian Water Resource Assessment study for the Darwin regions.
"This means undertaking trials that target high-value broadacre crops like cotton and peanuts and developing farming systems that incorporate crop rotations like sorghum, maize, pulses or pasture.
"Our physical small-scale trials will be complemented by larger, commercial demonstration trials and supported by crop simulation tools like APSIM (Agricultural Production Systems sIMulator) and OZCOT.
"Advances in these crop simulation models provide a powerful tool which can be used to extend learnings from past and current field research, build an understanding of the short and long term risk profiles, identify key management decisions, determine irrigation water demands and incorporate producer experience while developing an overall picture of the cropping potential of a region," he said.
Data collected as part of the trials will be added to the APSIM, OZCOT applications, while University of Southern Queensland (USQ) Associate Professor Keith Pembleton said his team will contribute its cropping system modelling expertise to the project.
"We will investigate the feasibility of the proposed new systems and help provide that information back to decision makers in the form of online tools.
The USQ Centre for Sustainable Agricultural Systems assists decision-makers to identify system constraints and make informed, science-based decisions that improve the productivity, profitability and environmental sustainability of agricultural systems," he said.
CRCNA CEO Jed Matz said this information will help producers decide which crops to grow and when and where to grow them.
"This collaboration is about gathering the brightest minds in northern Australia cropping systems and setting the starting points for the development of broadacre cropping systems by giving producers, investors and development decision-makers the information they need to realise the region's potential and all the economic benefits that flow from realising that potential," he said.
The NT Farmers Association says cotton, mung beans, aromatic rice, irrigated fodder, sustainable forestry, peanuts, investment opportunities with land releases, as well as better management of the development processes will be amongst the workshops and presentations featured at the Northern Australia Food Futures Conference in Darwin, April 27 to 30.
With over 43 per cent of Australia's land mass and 60 per cent of Australia's available irrigation water, NT Farmers CEO Paul Burke said that the development opportunities that exist in Northern Australia remain largely untouched.
"The economics of new crops to Northern Australia, such as cotton, look attractive for northern development and the market for Australian cotton is strong.
"Northern cotton, rice, grains and fodder may help relieve the commercial pressures on producing more irrigated crops in the Murray Darling, and although its early days, the prospects look promising," Mr Burke said.
Mr Burke said that good research has to underpin any commercial development.
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