The NT’s Douglas Daly region earmarked for large-scale cotton, hay, hemp and more

The NT’s Douglas Daly region earmarked for large-scale cotton, hay, hemp and more

The NT Farmers Association has unveiled a roadmap to expand farming in the Douglas Daly region by 60,000 hectares, which it says could help “unlock the enormous agricultural potential of the Territory”.

Key points:

  • Douglas Daly Stage Two plan has identified 60,000ha suitable for agricultural development
  • A report by NT Farmers suggests land would be best suited to a mix of irrigated and dryland crops, including cotton, peanuts, hay and hemp
  • Tipperary Station has received government approval to start cropping 14,000ha in the region

Called Douglas Daly Stage Two, the ambitious plan involves the creation of up to 50 new properties on existing cattle stations, with land identified as suitable for growing cotton, peanuts, sorghum, hay, rice and hemp.

The development would cost an estimated $1.6 billion, but according to NT Farmers’ Andrew Phillip, the proposal was driven by increasing demand from the private sector.

“Over the last couple of years we’ve had over 100 potential investors come to the Territory looking at opportunities for a wide range of crops,” he said.

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“A lot of them have spent a lot of time looking for land to develop or buy and there just hasn’t been land available for those farmers to invest in.

“So what we’ve done is look at where those farmers wanted to grow, and the Douglas Daly, as it stands, is a great farming community.

NT Farmers president Simon Smith said the upcoming NT election “presented an opportunity to reimagine the future of the NT”.

“We call on all parties to commit to releasing the land, and to provide the core infrastructure to enable its full development,” he said.

What about the water?

The Douglas Daly region is about 200 kilometres south of Darwin and sits on top of the Olloo Dolostone aquifer, which has almost been fully allocated in terms of sustainable water yields for farming.

The NT Farmers’ report references other potential sources of water in the region, including what it calls “managed aquifer recharge opportunities”, which would involve building weirs on the Lower King River and Stray Creek.

Workers planting trees in red soil.

In recent years the Douglas Daly has become home to vast plantations of Indian sandalwood and African mahogany trees.(ABC Rural: Daniel Fitzgerald)

According to Mr Phillip however, the proposed Douglas Daly Stage Two would rely mostly on the success of dryland cropping — especially cotton.

About 1,000 hectares of cotton has been grown in the NT this year, 80 per cent of which was “rain-fed”, meaning no irrigation was required.

The pastoral leases identified for Douglas Daly Stage Two include Douglas South, Jindare Station, Florina Station, and Claravale Station, which is currently up for sale.

Under the NT’s Pastoral Land Act, if the stations were to be farmed the land would either need to be rezoned, or non-pastoral use permits would need to be granted.

“We’re floating the idea that if the owners of the properties were interested [in development] then it should be up to them to at least have a pathway for how they could look at developing their properties,” Mr Phillip said.

A paddock of dryland cotton with hills in the background.

Dryland cotton growing at Tipperary Station in the Douglas Daly.(ABC Rural: Daniel Fitzgerald)

Tipperary Station approved to crop 14,000ha

In a separate matter, Tipperary Station in the Douglas Daly region has received Government approval to start broadacre cropping across 14,000ha.

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It is one of the largest non-pastoral use permits to ever be issued in the Northern Territory, with Tipperary Station waiting almost two years for the approval.

Station manager David Connolly said the company would expand on its current program of growing fodder crops for its cattle such as corn and sorghum, as well as cotton.

“The outlook for cropping in these regions is very good, and I think a lot more pastoralists will step into it,” he said.

Mr Connolly said the station would take a measured approach to development, “we’re not going to dive in and plant 14,000 hectares tomorrow, it will be slow and steady.”

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