The Ord River Irrigation Scheme – charting a course for economic success

Irrigation Agriculture Australia

In order to maintain and expand an agricultural sector capable of providing a secure source of food for the long-term future of the nation, Australia must consider a broad range of development opportunities and be prepared to take calculated risks. Creative new ventures will be essential but this may also include the restructuring of programmes that, despite continued and concentrated investment, have so far met with little economic success. The Ord River Irrigation Scheme in the East Kimberley region of northern Western Australia is one agricultural development plan that has been less than successful over a protracted period. With investment from domestic and international sources and commitment by all levels of government and industry, the East Kimberley region still has the potential to make a significant contribution to the economic and cultural development of northern Australian as well as ensuring our continuing self-reliance in food production and contributing to the export of important food and commodities such as rice and cotton.

Key points

  • The Ord River Irrigation Scheme commenced operation in 1963 with a grant from the Australian Government.
  • The early Ord River Stage One cotton and rice crops succumbed to natural pests and others were very low-yielding, influencing many farmers to leave the region.
  • Recently, the WA Auditor General released an investigation report into the Scheme that was highly critical of its management.
  • In 2016, nearly 40,000 hectares were under extensive irrigation, carrying a varied range of food and commercial crops, including genetically modified species.
  • Further investment is needed from both government and the private sector to capitalise on opportunities in cotton production, sugar refining and irrigated farming technology.
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