Northern Australia is already the world’s fifth largest beef and sugar exporter, with 12 million cattle and 3,000 sugarcane farms bringing in more than $3 billion each year.
But this only represents a fraction of the region’s agricultural potential.
By assisting with the establishment of new diversified agricultural industries in the north we could increase economic output, expand exports through high-value crops and increase value adding to the pastoral sector by producing feed and fodder.
Over half of Queensland is situated above the Tropic of Capricorn and around 6% of this land area is considered potentially suitable for cropping systems. For example, the North Queensland Irrigated Agricultural Study identified eight million hectares of potentially suitable agricultural land in the Flinders River Catchment and two million hectares in the Gilbert River Catchment, with up to 50,000 hectares of potential irrigated agriculture across the two.
Crop production in Northern Australia has the potential to build the region’s economy through increased crop production, biofuels, greater livestock productivity and new export opportunities, but the full potential is yet to be realised as the elements necessary for agricultural development have been largely considered in isolation rather than together. These include access to skilled labour, relevant RD&E, infrastructure provision, governance arrangements, land tenure complexities, water availability, a need for pragmatic natural resource management frameworks and overcoming regulatory impediments.
In aggregate, northern Australia has 13 million hectares of native forest that has been rated as available and suitable for commercial wood production (ABARES 2019). Even though 97% of this area is rated as ‘low commerciality’ under historical criteria, this represents a large potential resource for future timber development.
If these policy challenges can be addressed the flow-on effect will be significant and include securing long term investment for the growth of a viable, resilient and sustainable domestic and export supply chain, increased demand for skilled workers and restored confidence and economic gains for producers and regional communities.
With appropriate planning and decision-making informed by reliable science and implementation using the latest technologies will set the region, and the nation, in good stead to continue growing a sustainable and profitable economy in the north.
The long-term vision is the production of a range of quality crops that meet the demands of domestic consumers, including the livestock industry, and the growing middle class in Asia and India, where there is increasing demand for protein and quality fibre.
A well-developed silvopastoral system which drives investment in new greenfield plantations, owing to the additional cash flows arising from livestock, timber and reduced operating costs from weed and understory grass control.
Facilitating the development of new and diversified agricultural industries in the north will increase economic prosperity and provide new jobs in northern Queensland.
This can be achieved by continuing to fund targeted projects under the Northern Australia White Paper Agenda, working to remove regulatory barriers and by reaching broad, bipartisan consensus on northern development.
- Continue funding the implementation of the Northern Australia White Paper Agenda, including prioritisation of key projects such as:
- Funding for an integrative ‘QNorth Cropping Development Project’ that brings together scientific and practical data and knowledge, key stakeholder experience and collaborative policy development to overcome barriers to investment into sustainable ‘on-ground’ development of a northern cropping industry with flow-on benefits to livestock production and export opportunities
- Improve silvicultural understanding through providing expertise and training for private native forestry (particularly among private and traditional owners) and to support expansion of Indigenous forestry opportunities, to raise and maintain future productivity and sustainable wood supply.
- Trials and applied research in northern land systems so to optimise potential commercial benefits of these forestry systems and as a possible solution to deal with upfront land costs and low early cash flows and early weed and grass (fuel) control.
- Establish broad bipartisan consensus on northern development including amendments to legislation to able confidence in investment and well managed, sustainable development.