Tropical north in spotlight

Jo FulwoodCountryman
RIRDC Rural Women’s Award finalist Kalyn Fletcher, believes the political compass must now point north.
Camera IconRIRDC Rural Women’s Award finalist Kalyn Fletcher, believes the political compass must now point north. Credit: Countryman

As a self-described pioneer of Australia’s tropical north, Kalyn Fletcher is no stranger to tackling a challenge.

The RIRDC Rural Women’s Award finalist believes the time has come for the country’s political compass to point north, and for Governments to invest in world-class port and rail facilities to allow farmers in the region to be competitive with the rest of the country.

Ms Fletcher is not only part of the family-owned commercial seed company R.B. Dessert Seeds based in the Ord River Irrigation area, but also the well known Hoochery Distillery, makers of the internationally awarded Ord River Rum, both of which were established years ago by her father Spike Dessert.

She said while Northern Australia was still largely undiscovered and significantly under-developed, it was already producing many quality agricultural products, such as chick peas, chia, sorghum, maize, and had a thriving cattle industry.

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“The opportunities here, particularly in the Kununurra region, are staggering, such as access to water, access to land and proximity to international markets,” she said.

“But as growers, we are severely restricted by the lack of infrastructure, such as a port, that will allow us deliver our product cost-efficiently to the rest of the world.”

Ms Fletcher, who will vie for the RIRDC Award along with three other finalists on March 17, hopes to use the winning bursary of $10,000 to travel to Brazil to study tropical agriculture and the integration between various tropical production systems.

She said her “tour of discovery” in Brazil would allow her to research one of the most advanced tropical agricultural systems in the world, and bring these findings back to stakeholders in Western Australia.

“Brazil has a highly-developed tropical agricultural industry and I’d like to share these insights with many stakeholders, including the people farming here in the tropics, and also potential investors and the political community,” she said

Ms Fletcher said opportunities existed to use the example already set in Brazil to expand agricultural prospects in the north.

She said the Ord river region could realistically produce two grain crops each year, utilising not just the irrigation scheme, but also rainfall during the wet season, if the right agronomic research and infrastructure was available to growers.

In particular, she believes there is a big opportunity for farmers in the Kununurra region to grow a soy-bean crop during the wet season, which would provide a protein source for the northern cattle industry, while at the same time being a legume break crop in a grain rotation.

“At the moment there’s only one crop a year during the dry season here at the Ord, and that’s using irrigation,” she said.

“If we could find a crop, such as soy-beans, that could grow during the wet season, the entire region here in the north would benefit, and the flow-on effects to rural communities would be significant.

“The growth of one industry in the north will support the growth of several others.

“There is a big opportunity for pastoralists here to diversify into dry-land cropping during the wet season, but the red tape associated with that diversification is currently stifling efforts in this regard.

“The ripple effect to the wider Australian population and the positive impact on the national economy of a flourishing tropical agricultural industry is too important to be ignored.”

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