August 16, 2016

Central Queensland – gearing up for serious growth

Issues such as water access, a more efficient supply chain, and the protection of the family farm are at the heart of a new regional initiative aimed at driving a new wave of growth for Central Queensland.

Central Queensland’s agricultural sector is thriving but there is still great potential for growth.  Anne Stünzner, Project Manager at Growing Central Queensland, and Darren Kuhl, NAB’s local Agribusiness Manager, discuss what’s needed to make the most of emerging opportunities.

Agriculture is already one of the significant pillar of the Queensland economy and the state government is committed to doubling production by 2040. Recently, a group of senior government officials decided to look into what’s needed to kick off a new wave of growth in Central Queensland, the vast area bounded by the Northern Territory border and the Coral Sea. They asked Anne Stünzner, a local cattle farmer, rural consultant and now Project Manager at Growing Central Queensland, to help identify the areas in need of most attention. She found three that stood out – water infrastructure, supply chain logistics and support for the family farm.

Access to water

In December 2004, state and local governments committed to a long-term water supply strategy, which included plans for the construction of Rookwood Weir.

“If this goes ahead it will secure 76,000 litres of high priority water,” says Stünzner of the plans. “We’ve already identified primary users in the urban market with significant allocations for Rockhampton, Gladstone and Livingstone councils.

“Part of my role now is to establish the agricultural demand –the big best-practice, high-end users who will help to transform the current grazing system into a productive agricultural precinct. The Fairbairn Dam, south west of Emerald, has been supplying farmers with water for cotton, beef cattle and horticulture for 40 years and we believe Rookwood Weir could have the same positive impact.”

Supply chain

Stünzner found both impediments and opportunities in the current supply chain.

“We’re seeing some progress,” she says. “For example, until recently, three of the bridges between Biloela and the Port of Gladstone weren’t structurally capable of carrying full road trains. That meant produce had to travel north and then east to Gracemere on a road train before changing down to a B-Double [vehicle] for the final leg south to Gladstone. Upgrading the bridges has cut farmers’ freight costs by as much as 50%.”

There are also plans for upgrades to the roads running through Rockhampton.

“At the moment only B-Doubles can get through the city,” says Darren Kuhl, Regional Agribusiness Manager, Central Queensland, NAB.

“Road trains physically double the potential load, so having a more direct route between Gracemere and the Rockhampton abattoirs would make a big difference to beef farmers’ transport costs.”

Better port facilities

Improved roads could also support farmers’ calls for upgrades to the Port of Gladstone itself.

“The port’s main focus is coal, but we’d like to see the facilities extended to cover the full range of agricultural products,” Stünzner says. “For example, Gladstone would be a much more cost-effective option than Brisbane for many of the farmers exporting produce to markets in South-East Asia. The addition of cold storage facilities would open up that opportunity.”

Protecting the family farm

In her research, Stünzner noted that recommendations for developing Northern Australia clearly identify family farms as the cornerstone of Australian agriculture.

“I believe it’s very important that, over the whole of Australia, we start looking for innovative and clever ways to ensure family farms survive for future generations,” she says.

Collaborating for success

Following Stünzner’s review, Growing Central Queensland was granted funding from the government for a further three years.

“The project is auspiced by Regional Development Australia at a federal level,” Stünzner says. “My wage is covered by three Queensland State departments and my operational funding comes from six local councils and Central Queensland University. Collaboration is proving to be a very successful model for us.”

Stünzner also sees opportunities for greater collaboration within the farming community.

“As a cattle farmer myself I know how easy it is for producers to feel like Robinson Crusoe when, in fact, we’re all standing on the same island,” she says.

“I believe the ability to work together as a group and take advantage of market power is where opportunity lies.  And we must never lose sight of the fact that our clean and green environment gives us our marketing advantage.

“As a group, we should do everything we can to protect and promote that.”

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