Asian investors cultivate northern Australia’s agricultural region

21 Mar 2018

A 200-hectare commercial wet-season cotton crop has been planted in Western Australia’s Ord Irrigation Scheme.

Kimberley Agricultural Investment (KAI), a subsidiary of Chinese company Shanghai Zhongfu, is among the stakeholders working on a cotton industry project supported by the Northern Australia Crop Research Alliance, a local cooperative that works together on crop R&D.

Shanghai Zhongfu is a significant investor in northern Australia. Its diverse investment portfolio across the Ord-East Kimberley Expansion includes planting chia seed, quinoa and sorghum at the Goomig lands, regional resort development and beef cattle breeding.

The cotton project is reinvestment from KAI, which previously worked with CSIRO on trials of genetically modified cotton in the Ord region in 2017 and invested in the Carlton Hill Station the year prior.

The Australian Government, through the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Developing Northern Australia, granted A$3 million towards a project to develop sustainable cropping systems in the region for cotton, grains and fodder.

This grant was supplemented with cash and in-kind contributions from participants in the CRC program, providing a total of A$11.7 million for the project.

‘These scientific developments have enabled producers to be more opportunistic in terms of crops selected in various seasons. The recent wet-season, high-value cotton crop is an example of this,’ says Karen Caston, Senior Industry Specialist, Austrade.

In an interview with ABC News, KAI farm manager Luke McKay says the company hopes to be on track for a mid-year cotton harvest.

Growers from the Ord region have also combined their collective capacity to scale up production of premium corn for the world’s largest importer of Australian corn, Dongil Grain.

In 2017, more than 11,000 tonnes of Ord corn was shipped out of Wyndham to Seoul as part of a new deal with Dongil Grain. The food manufacturer processes Australian maize in its Korean factory to supply locals with an expanding array of corn snack foods such as Lotte and Frito-Lay, which makes Doritos corn chips.

Speaking with ABC News, David Cross, CEO of the Ord River District Cooperative, says it’s a unique opportunity to follow their grain produce from product to plate.

‘We aim to produce and deliver a really top-quality product consistently and we’re certainly looking forward to continuing that trade into this season as well.’

‘The food and agriculture community of Western Australia’s Ord Region continues to establish a blueprint for successful development in northern Australia,’ says Caston.

‘The region’s diverse community includes local indigenous peoples, farmers from different cultural backgrounds, Australian entrepreneurs, world-class scientists and foreign investors.

‘Their innovation and investment is underpinning the development of the Ord River region and Northern Australia.’