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Grains & Cropping

19 August, 2020

Central Highlands at heart of major crop research project

The Central Highlands will be at the heart of a major new initiative to grow the cropping sector in northern Australia.

The Northern Australian Crop Research Centre of Excellence has been formed to bring together researchers from CQUniversity with farm machinery leaders Vanderfield; farmers from the Central Highlands Cotton Growers and Irrigators Association (CH-CGIA) and Grain Producers Australia; and agribusiness expertise from the Central Highlands Development Corporation (CHDC).

The Centre will draw upon the unique skills and networks of each organisation to conduct Research and Development to bolster the productivity and profitability of northern farming systems.

The initial focal point of the Centre's activities will be Emerald. As one of Australia's northern-most outposts of large-scale broadacre crop production, and home to a CQUniversity campus, the area offers a logical base for northern-focused research projects.

Newly-appointed CHDC Chief Executive Officer, Arjan Bloemer, describes it as a huge coup for our region.

"The Central Highlands' strong presence in this initiative positions our agriculture industry to immediately and directly benefit from the R&D outcomes," Mr Bloemer said.

"It's also recognition of the wealth of experience and expertise within our region's agriculture sector."

Central Highlands Mayor and CHDC Board Chair, Kerry Hayes, said the Centre of Excellence was a natural progression for the region.

"Despite drought conditions and other challenges, Central Highlands agriculture has continued to thrive and that's testament to the determination, expertise and innovation of local growers and CHDC," Mayor Hayes said.

"CHDC's biennial AgTech forum and field day, the inaugral AgFrontier Regional Agtech Incubator, Paddock to Port Tours, and its unwavering support of the CQ Inland Port are examples of the work undertaken in recent years to facilitate sustainable growth for our agriculture industry. 

"This Centre is another step towards bolstering the productivity and profitability of farming systems both here and across northern Australia."

Emerald farmer and CHC-GIA President, Aaron Kiely, said that by working together under a collaborative partnership, the group could overcome capacity constraints by consolidating the complementary skills of each organisation and attract new investment to the region from research funding agencies.

"The development of agricultural opportunities in northern Australia is a policy priority for the Commonwealth, Queensland, Northern Territory and West Australian governments, which recognise the productive potential of currently under-utilised natural resources across the Top End," Mr Kiely said.

"However in many areas, gross margins for high-volume, low-value broadacre crops are marginal, with distance to market and limited localised processing being key supply chain factors impacting on profitability.

"The formation of this Centre is critical to providing the R&D capability to address these challenges, whether that's through tropically-adapted crop varieties or new high-value niche crops along with supporting agronomy advice, or via farm equipment customised for the northern environments," Mr Kiely said. 

"A concerted and co-ordinated research program is required to address how these factors can come together to realise a profitable and sustainable farming system."

CHDC's involvement in the Centre of Excellence aligns with the 30-year Central Highlands Economic Masterplan (CHEMP), which recommends a focus on collaborative research and acknowledges the critical role it will play in the region's future success.

The Central Highlands Regional Agribusiness Stocktake (November 2019) shows the region delivers approximately $1 billion in agricultural value. 

Cattle grazing is the largest agricultural activity, generating $576 million.

Cotton is another key driver of value which had a strong year in 2017-18 ($194 million).

According to official data, the value of production of wheat and sorghum is $59 million while pulses (chickpeas) have an economic value of $73 million.

The region also boasts a thriving table grape sector at $17 million.

The Stocktake can be accessed at 

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