KAI looks to super foods in Ord

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian
Farmhand Jason Woodman, chief executive Jian Zhong Yin and farm manager Luke McKay in KAI’s flourishing chia crop on the Ord irrigation scheme.
Camera IconFarmhand Jason Woodman, chief executive Jian Zhong Yin and farm manager Luke McKay in KAI’s flourishing chia crop on the Ord irrigation scheme. Credit: The West Australian

A Chinese-backed company plans to set up a grain grading and packaging plant near Kununurra as it prepares for the first harvest from its farms on the Ord River irrigation scheme.

Shanghai Zhongfu-owned Kimberley Agricultural Investment hopes to process so-called super foods chia and quinoa on the former sugar mill site as well as sorghum and other grains.

KAI general manager Jim Engelke said it wanted to focus on grain production in conjunction with the Chia Co and local grower co-operative Ordco.

Under the plans, KAI would become the first commercial grower of quinoa in the north after promising trial results.

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KAI has successfully grown chia, sorghum and millet over about 600 hectares this year with harvest to start in about three weeks. It is set to crop 2500ha next year and about 5000ha in 2017 at a site known as Goomig.

KAI purchased the old mill last year for about $4 million. The plans include a weighbridge, sheds, silos, grading and packaging facilities, and equipment to treat the quinoa seed.

Mr Engelke said the facility could eventually handle 40,000 tonnes a year, depending on KAI’s mix of crops, its progress in developing a 6000ha site known as Knox Plain and deliveries from local growers.

It is a far cry from the billion-dollar investment in a sugar industry and refinery touted by the WA Government when KAI was named preferred proponent to develop the Ord land in 2012.

Mr Engelke said KAI was playing the cards it had been dealt, with plans for a sugar industry always dependent on access to land in the Northern Territory.

“We don’t have any alternative at this stage but to push the grain side of it given we don’t have the scale for either cotton or sugar,” he said. “We are caught between being too small for those commodity crops and too big for horticulture crops.”

KAI is in regular contact with Australian Consolidated Pastoral about buying part or all of Carlton Hill Station and will be one of the bidders for the latest release of 5000ha on the Ord.

Mr Engelke said those pieces of land would give it enough scale for cotton, but not sugar.

The NT Government, the Northern Land Council and traditional owners have been bogged down in talks on the release of 14,000ha for farming for almost three years.

KAI needs to extend the Ord’s main irrigation channel by 7.5km to support the Knox land.

Mr Engelke said KAI would extend the channel so that it was fit-for-purpose for Knox at an estimated cost of $2.4 million.

Another option was to extend the channel so that it had the capacity to deliver water to Knox and the NT land. The WA Government estimates it would cost up to $8 million to build the 7.5km extension with capacity to irrigate Knox and the NT land.

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