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By Peter Stone (CSIRO) 17 June 2016 4 min read

CSIRO researchers Mark Thomas and Noel Schoknecht in the Fitzroy catchment in Western Australia.

Northern Australia makes a substantial contribution to the Australian economy, particularly through agriculture, mining and tourism which have a combined annual value of more than $85 billion.

Agriculture is already a significant global player with cattle and sugar among the top five of the world’s largest exporters with a combined income exceeding $3 billion each year.

Even at this current scale, there are opportunities to unlock significant new value and investment. CSIRO is conducting dozens of northern Australia research projects that aim to better utilise land, water, energy resources and provide better protection for the entire region that spans from the Pilbara to Rockhampton.

The breadth of this research will be highlighted at the Developing Northern Australia Conference which kicks off on Monday and runs until Wednesday at the Darwin Convention Centre.

A water bore with mango trees in the background
Production bore at Manbulloo Mango Farm at Katherine in the Daly catchment. Investigating water options for the north is one area of CSIRO's research. Image: Steven Tickell, Northern Territory Department of Land Resource Management

Seven CSIRO researchers will present at the conference covering topics including: opportunities provided by different sources of water, updating infrastructure for the transportation of cattle and agriculture, energy options for northern Australia, indigenous livelihoods and securing Australia’s health and biosecurity future.

This ECOS edition gives readers just a taste of the breadth of research we are currently conducting, with many of the researchers that have contributed to this edition showcasing our work at the Conference. They help represent more than 100 CSIRO people currently supporting initiatives to further develop the north.

Collaboration with local knowledge and universities is also critical to the success of our projects.  Building on our extensive experience in northern Australia, we are well placed to reach our ultimate goal of unlocking the region’s potential.

CSIRO is currently undertaking the $15 million Northern Australia Water Resource Assessment (NAWRA) to evaluate opportunities for irrigated agriculture and other water uses in three priority regions in the north.  The Assessment will use a whole-of-region approach to considering investment options and will seek to lower the barriers to investment in regional development.

CSIRO has also developed the Transport Network Strategic Investment Tool (TraNSIT) to provide a holistic view of transport logistics costs and benefits.  The state-of-the-art computer-based logistics tool provides the most comprehensive ground-up mapping of the agriculture supply chain ever. CSIRO applied TraNSIT to help the Government prioritise which roads to improve for the transport of cattle and 95 per cent of agriculture transport across Australia.

A road train parked on the side of a road
Beef transport in northern Australia can look forward to better roads and safer conditions thanks to CSIRO’s (TraNSIT) calculations. Image: CSIRO, Dr Ian Watson

Adequate energy infrastructure that meets the unique challenges of the region will also be vital for development in northern Australia.

According to CSIRO domain leader for Grids and Renewable Energy Integration Mark Paterson, Australia’s north will require a strategic push for smart, low carbon electrification. His presentation at the Darwin Conference will outline the complexities of the energy market in the region. The north currently features interconnection to the National Electricity Market in Queensland as well as a network of isolated grids, communities, outstations and mining operations in the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

CSIRO research also has an important role in enhancing the depth and diversity of the livelihood options open to Indigenous people. Senior Research Scientist Marcus Barber will present at the conference on CSIRO partnerships with Indigenous communities that are improving knowledge of existing biological and cultural resources, developing new livelihood options, assisting indigenous engagement in large-scale development initiatives, and identifying future Indigenous research priorities.

Finally, we are providing advice on how to protect northern Australia from pests and diseases that can enter through natural or unregulated pathways and helping rural and remote Australians to have better access to health services, leading to improved health outcomes.

Developing Northern Australia Conference 2016

The Developing Northern Australia Conference Above the Line – Unleashing the North's Potential will explore how industry, business, government and agribusiness are embracing the opportunities for sustainable growth into the next decade. More than 350 delegates including Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles are expected to attend the event.

The CSIRO presenters and their respective topics at the conference are as follows:

  • Peter Stone, Research Director, Land and Water — Leading a forum on land and water in northern Australia.
  • Cuan Petheram, Research Scientist — Opportunities provided by different sources of water.
  • Gary Fitt, Science Director, CSIRO Health and Biosecurity –– Australia’s biosecurity future, implications for northern Australia.
  • David Hansen, CEO Australian e-Health Research Centre, CSIRO — Digital health in northern Australia.
  • Marcus Barber, Senior Research Scientist, and Nerida Horner, Northern Territory Science Consultant — Enabling equity of access and community development in northern Australia.
  • Mark Paterson, Domain Leader Grids and Renewable Energy Integration — Accelerating northern Australia’s energy future.
  • Andrew Higgins, Principal Research Scientist, Transport Network Strategic Investment Tool (TraNSIT) —application to $100 million Northern Australia Beef Roads Programme and other agriculture.

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