Hope for new horticultural precincts

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

It could be far bigger than the Ord River irrigation project and worth hundreds of millions to the State's economy.

That's if WA's horticultural industry can get funding to cash in on three southern future vegetable growing precincts.

VegetablesWA is in the midst of planning for a veritable vegetable boom, with a draft business plan set to be released within weeks outlining the growth potential of the Myalup area, between Perth and Bunbury.

Myalup is one of three areas - the others being Manjimup-Pemberton and an area flanked by Dandaragan, Gingin and Lancelin - earmarked by VegetablesWA and the Department of Agriculture and Food WA (DAFWA) as possible future horticulture precincts with almost untapped potential to expand production for the export market.

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The Ord might have attracted millions from the State Government's coffers and be heralded as Australia's next food bowl but production in Myalup alone is already worth six times that from a similar growing area in the Ord.

Figures revealed by the draft plan show production in Myalup is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the area's potential.

VegetablesWA executive officer Jim Turley said that with access to more water, Myalup's annual value of production could rise from $60 million farmgate off the currently developed 2000 hectares to $80 million for existing producers.

If another 10,000ha of suitable land in the precinct could be irrigated that figure could jump to $240 million per annum.

"It gives you an idea of the type of money we're talking about," Mr Turley said. "Including sandalwood the Ord produces an estimated $30 million worth of agriculture per annum off 7000ha. In other words, the potential down there is enormous."

Horticulture in the Myalup area is already growing.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics the value of horticultural produce from Myalup has doubled in six years but how much more it can grow will depend on developing water supplies.

All three future precinct areas possess the most valuable resource for expanding horticulture production - water.

But Mr Turley said the State Government would need to chip in to develop irrigation and other infrastructure to turn the area's potential into dollars.

Myalup onion and carrot grower Peter Ivankovich, one of the dozen or so growers in the area, already exports 95 per cent of his carrots.

He said his family was looking to expand by 30-40 per cent but if there was government assistance in developing the water supply they could easily double production.

"We could grow a lot more if we had more water, even on the land we've got now," Mr Ivankovich said.

"We could grow two crops a year but we're basically only doing one crop a year on that land. One of the restrictions is the water."

VegetablesWA has already had preliminary discussions with Agriculture Minister Terry Redman and will release the Myalup business plan before moving onto proposals for the other two precincts.

Mr Redman said WA's population was growing rapidly at the same time that there were significant opportunities to supply fresh food to other countries.

"These trends, combined with urban pressures on WA's horticultural growing areas, are creating significant demand for new areas for growing fruit and vegetables," he said.

"It is crucial that DAFWA works with the Department of Planning so the needs of, and opportunities for, agriculture and food production are incorporated into the planning process and conflicts between agriculture and other uses, such as urban development or existing land uses, are managed."

Mr Turley said they did not know the value of investment they would be seeking from the Government but would probably look to source funds from Royalties for Regions.

"It's to give the existing growers the opportunity to advance their income on their properties and diversify into export," he said.

"We're told the world needs food and we have areas like Myalup and the other two that can supply them."

If the draft business plan proves successful and government funding is forthcoming, Mr Turley said the Myalup precinct could be up and running in the second half of 2014.

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