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Possible Dairy Production in the Pilbara Desert
July 28, 2014

It’s a pretty radical idea, given the landscape’s harshness, but the director general of WA’s Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) believes dairy production is possible for the Pilbara.

Rob Delane can also envision a future in which the region’s mining camps house seasonal workers.

“It’s quite possible we could have cotton production here, or horticulture with mining camps turned into major backpacker camps for seasonal picking.

“My favourite is that it’s possible we could have red and black dairy cows here.

It’s possible we could have red and black dairy cows here.

Rob Delane, director-general of DAFWA

“That sounds pretty unusual in a very hot place, but I’ve been to a 50,000-head dairy farm in the middle of the Saudi Arabian desert.

“There are even bigger dairy farms there than that, and whilst I think it’s unlikely, technically it’s possible that we could have dairy farms in the Pilbara.”

DAFWA is currently conducting trials using excess water from Pilbara mine sites to grow crops like sorghum, for biofuel and cattle feed.

It’s part of the Pilbara Hinterland Agricultural Development Initiative (PHADI), which is investigating the feasibility and economic viability of large-scale irrigated horticulture in the region.

Current estimates indicate there is potentially 200 gigalitres of water available for irrigation, which is enough to fill Perth’s Subiaco football stadium to the brim 200 times.

“It’s enough for 30,000 hectares or more. That’s a pretty big irrigation project by the standards of Western Australia.”

And while Mr Delane concedes that agriculture is unlikely to ever rival the scale of mining in the Pilbara, he believes it’s important to focus on developing more market demand.

“What we haven’t got in place yet is the very strong supply chain pull and that’s the area that I’m personally focussing on.

“We’re dealing with major markets in Asia which can take off very quickly. We’ve seen that with iron ore and with energy.

“With an exponential growth curve, it can seem very flat for a long time and then all of a sudden it grows very rapidly.”

Mr Delane cites Asia and the Middle East as two key regions looking for investment opportunities around a reliable source of fresh produce.

“They’re looking for projects for premium, clean, safe produce and that’s something Western Australia and the Pilbara can produce.

“With the right combination of technology, markets and supply chain logistics, it’s technically possible to grow large quantities of premium-priced produce here and for that not to be too many years away.”

 

Source: ABC news

 


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