Funding bid for Wagin hub

Kate MatthewsCountryman

Wagin’s giant ram could be feasting on a giant barramundi if a food and fibre processing hub gets the go-ahead.

The Shire of Wagin, along with a consortium of partners including Morton Seeds and the Wagin Woodanilling Landcare Zone are hoping to create a $7.2 million food fibre processing hub.

It will include a desalination unit, a cogeneration power station and an inland aquaculture plant aiming to produce 100 tonnes of barramundi in the first year.

Wagin shire president Phillip Blight said the Shire would know in July if it was successful in a $3.625 million grant application through the Federal Government’s Regional Development Australia Fund.

The project will use 300,000 litres of brackish bore-water a day, from two bores which draw down the water table under the Wagin townsite.

Excess water has been pumped from under the town since 2005 into a nearby lake to stop salinity weakening brick, steel and stone foundations and structures as well as roads and concrete areas.

Mr Blight said the water would be desalinated at a plant powered by burning oat hulls, a bi-product from Morton’s oat dehulling plant.

It’s estimated the Shire could save up to $80,000 a year, which is equivalent to the cost of running the production bores and the watering of recreational areas.

“Just as Morton is, the Shire is taking what was a liability and hoping to turn it into an asset,” Mr Blight said.

“The aquaculture component is taking that liability and value adding.”

Morton Seeds will also save costs and owner Jonnie Morton said it would help the company stay competitive in the market.

“We will be able to offer better prices to oat growers and it’s about being competitive in the market place from an export point of view,” Mr Morton said.

But without the grant, Mr Morton said the project wouldn’t be viable.

Morton Seeds has already been trialling using waste oat husks as a renewable energy source, replacing an LPG-fuelled boiler. In the future, Wagin Woodanilling Landcare Zone manager Danielle Perrie said straw and oil mallees could be used to generate energy.

“The benefit for agriculture is the aquaculture arm will have a continued requirement for oat husks to feed the cogeneration plant,” Ms Perrie said.

“Environmentally, the project will reduce the impact of salinity on town infrastructure and Wagin will be able to use its own water source for recreation areas instead of using water pumped from Wellington Dam.”

The construction phase is expected to require up to 36 workers and four staff to begin with for the aquaculture farm.

The project is expected to create extra jobs at Morton and has the potential for tourism.

Research partners the National Centre of Excellence in Desalination and Murdoch University have backed the project.

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