Fortune Agribusiness unveils $150 million irrigation plans for Northern Territory cattle station

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ABC Rural | 13 September 2020

Fortune Agribusiness unveils $150 million irrigation plans for Northern Territory cattle station

By Jack Price
 
The owner of a Northern Territory cattle station has unveiled plans to develop a "nationally significant" fruit and vegetable operation in the middle of Australia.

Fortune Agribusiness is willing to spend more than $150 million to establish a 3,500-hectare irrigation project at Singleton Station, about 120 kilometres south of Tennant Creek.
 
Singleton Station sits in the Western Davenport water control district, and Fortune has just applied for an annual 40,000 megalitre water licence from the NT Government.
 
Fortune chairman Peter Wood said if the water extraction licence was granted the company would launch an eight-year development plan to grow a range of crops.
 
"In the first year we'd be looking to grow some fairly simple annual crops — we've got on our list onions and rockmelons, even hay," he said.
 
"But our main focus is on some of the longer-term permanent tree crops, like citrus or grapes, and they'll take some years to get to maturity."
 
Mr Wood said more than 70 per cent of the station's produce would be exported, mainly to Asian markets.
 
"Certainly China would be a target, but no more a target than South-East Asia," he said.
 
"The crops we're growing are in high demand through that area and the markets are growing quite rapidly, so we'll be tapping into that."
 
Lots of bores needed to irrigate in the arid zone

Mr Wood said nearly 150 bores would need to be developed to irrigate the crops, in a region with an average rainfall total of 380 millimetres per year.
 
The water table within the centre of the proposed farm is projected to go down by 40 to 50 metres over a 30-year period, but Mr Wood was confident the irrigation project could be done sustainably.
 
"We've done a lot of work with the government to determine how to assess the impacts on the environment and make sure what we're proposing to do is acceptable from an environmental point of view," he said.
 
Mr Wood expected the farm would generate about $180 million in annual revenue when fully established, employing about 110 permanent and 1,350 seasonal workers.
 
NT Farmers chief executive Paul Burke said it made the project a "nationally significant" one.
 
"A 3,500-hectare irrigated horticulture project on this scale is significant for Australia, not just the NT," he said.
 
Western Davenport set to lure investors

Fortune Agribusiness is a small group of investors with some links to China, who bought Singleton Station in 2016 with the intention of developing a horticulture operation
 
However, it is not the only company looking to tap into the Western Davenport's water resources.
 
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In the NT Government's most recent water plan for the region, the groundwater allocation for consumptive uses increased by almost 100,000 megalitres per year.
 
Earlier this year, a watermelon farmer became the first in the region to grow a commercial peanut crop, and others in the Western Davenport region are now looking to grow peanuts in the coming years.
 
According to the NT Farmers' Western Davenport Development Plan, the region could potentially become home to 10,000 hectares of irrigated land within the next 10 to 15 years, valued at $300 million.
 
Paul Burke said the availability of that additional water would lure investors to the region.
 
"Investment will certainly be in the hundreds of millions of dollars over the coming decade, and it could be even more than that," he said.
 
But the chief executive of Centrefarm Aboriginal Horticulture, which also plans to develop horticulture projects in the region, warned that large water applications like Fortune's needed to be considered from a regional planning perspective.
 
"There is a concern that this project may hinder neighbouring Aboriginal Land Trust's ability to successfully apply for smaller water licences on their estates, due to the cumulative drawdown impacts on groundwater-dependent ecosystems," Centrefarm CEO Vin Lange said.
 
Posted 2ddays ago, updated 2ddays ago
Original source: ABC
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