Northern Australia is a very productive part of the country with substantial opportunities for further targeted development. Our research is guiding the continued sustainable development of the region.
Understanding the opportunities in the north
Northern Australia makes a substantial contribution to the Australian economy, particularly through agriculture, mining and tourism.
Agriculture in northern Australia is already a significant global player. Its 12 million cattle make northern Australia the world's fifth largest beef exporter. Its more than 3000 sugar farms make it the world's fifth largest sugar exporter. Combined income from these two businesses alone exceeds $3 billion each year.
There are opportunities to unlock significant new investment in the north. This will require confidence about the scale of the opportunities and understanding of the risks involved, which we have the experience and capability to deliver.
Our research has identified intensification of agricultural production as providing some of the best opportunities for further development, largely through identifying new opportunities for irrigation.
The keys to further unlocking the north
Water is integral to the success of the development of the north.
We have recently completed the first and only account of water availability for northern Australia and found that every year, out of the 2 million GL of water arriving there, around 15,000 GL—enough to irrigate almost 1.5 million hectares—could be made available for irrigation.
Our detailed catchment assessments can accurately identify how much water can be sustainably used an ongoing basis for irrigation and other uses.
We recently constructed the first soils maps covering all of northern Australia, and the suitability of soil for over 70 different crops. Those maps show where there’s at least 16 million hectares of soil that’s suitable for intensive agriculture.
Underdeveloped transport infrastructure and long distances have presented a consistent challenge to development.
Our transport logistics tool, TRANSIT, is helping industry to save transport costs and increase efficiencies. TRANSIT identifies least-cost pathways for producers using existing infrastructure and identifies cost-effective investment options for strategic infrastructure, such as relocated holding yards and truck rest stops as well as configuration of roads, processing facilities and ports.
Northern Australian tenure systems are complex and unique in the national context. There are multiple and often overlapping tenure types for the same piece of land.
We have identified pathways for improvement that reduce complexity, improve the efficiency of regulation, and improve the effectiveness of land and resource planning.
There are a range of competitive industries in northern Australia, including agriculture, mining and gas production. Each of these have their own set of economic factors that need to be considered to maximise the development potential of the north.
Our work, in collaboration with partners, provides policy makers with a clear indication of the location and scale of medium and longer term opportunities for agricultural production, and critical supply chain and infrastructure investment issues that may help to foster those opportunities.
Guiding successful development
We have put all of this research and capacity together to develop a formula for identifying specific development opportunities in the north.
This formula, first demonstrated through the Flinders and Gilbert Agricultural Resource Assessment, is used to rapidly and economically quantify current water availability, identify water storage options, construct soils maps of high precision and combine them to establish estimates of regional agricultural production potential. These approaches provide a blueprint across priority sites for future irrigation development.