Pilbara opportunity for farming boom

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Cally DupeThe West Australian
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Cassava, sesame seeds, castor oil and other low-water, dry-climate crops are suitable for the region’s harsh climate.
Camera IconCassava, sesame seeds, castor oil and other low-water, dry-climate crops are suitable for the region’s harsh climate.

When Tim Morris looks at the harsh, dry Pilbara landscape he sees opportunity.

The author of the State Government’s Growing the North report said the historically mining-focused region had the potential for a farming industry up to 100 times more productive than its current $53 million annual output.

Speaking at the New Pilbara Conference in Perth last week, Mr Morris flagged cassava, sesame seeds, castor oil and other low-water, dry-climate crops as suitable for the region’s harsh climate.

But he was worried government red tape, and the cost and risk of farming in the North West would mean the Pilbara’s potential would never become reality.

“I think the challenge we have seen since then is farmers are very conservative people and I think the challenge is that there is a lot of risk in the north,” he said.

“Farming in the north is not about the opportunity it is about minimising the risk.”

Mr Morris said in examining and evaluating the region he compared its climatic conditions to other parts of the world including parts of Africa, America, the Middle East and Asia.

He added, like the East Kimberley’s Ord River Scheme, agriculture in the Pilbara would go through a similar trial and error process before it prospered.

“We need to go through a discovery process of doing new crops in the Pilbara,” he said.

“(That) is exactly what happened in the Ord, they had huge problems with bugs, then they thought they were going to do sugar, now they are into sandalwood and chia which is working well.

“The Pilbara is going to go through exactly the same thing.”

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