The Federal Government has approved a prawn aquaculture facility in the Northern Territory that will have significant benefits for the local and regional economies.
The development, known as Project Sea Dragon, is the initiative of Australian agri-food company Seafarms Group.
Stage 1 of Project Sea Dragon will result in a nearly threefold increase in Australia’s farmed prawn production, and a 55 per cent increase in Australia’s total production.
Once fully implemented, it is anticipated Project Sea Dragon will produce over 100,000 tonnes of prawns each year and generate an export revenue of $1.6 billion each year.
The first phase of the project, near the border of the Northern Territory and Western Australia, will include a facility at Legune Station where the prawns will grow to size, a breeding centre at Bynoe Harbour and export facilities at Wyndham and/or Darwin.
At full scale the project will create up to 1500 direct jobs in Northern Australia. Construction of the first phase alone will engage over 400 construction workers.
The environmental approval requires Seafarms to follow strict conditions to protect matters of national environmental significance including migratory birds, sawfish and the flatback turtle.
The company will carefully manage matters such as wastewater and impacts from light and noise. An independent scientific advisory group will be established to help monitor protection measures and make sure they are working.
Australian farmers are planning to invest in infrastructure, technology and education in the next 12 months, according to the Commonwealth Bank Agri Insights report.
The research shows 31 percent of farmers will increase investment in fixed infrastructure and 11 percent in plant and equipment. On the financial side, 41 percent of farmers are intending to increase investment in farm inputs and 14 percent will invest more in farm technology and innovation, while 15 percent will increase investment in further education and training.
Geoff Wearne, executive general manager of regional and agribusiness banking, Commonwealth Bank, said farmers are focused on improving operations to increase productivity and profitability.
"Australian farmers are optimising their operations by upgrading infrastructure and equipment, adopting new farm technologies to increase production efficiencies and increasing their focus on education and training. The overall trend indicates farmers are investing on-farm to improve sustainability and drive growth, with a lesser focus on expanding into new landholdings and off-farm investments," Wearne said.
"We know that irrigation reserves are low in some areas, which will drive a short term contraction in cotton, and seasonal conditions for beef have been very difficult. Survey responses were influenced by these recent conditions but we're confident the long-term outlook for beef and cotton remains positive."
Tasmanian farmers (seveN percent) are the most likely to invest in land acquisition over the next year.
Tasmanian (17 percent) and South Australian (17 percent) farmers have the strongest intentions to invest in plant and equipment over the next year.
South Australian (20 percent) and Victorian (17 percent) farmers have stronger intentions to invest off-farm than farmers in other states.
Intentions to increase investment in education and skills are strongest in South Australia (21 percent).
Northern Territory farmers are keen to close the export gap between cattle and horticulture products, especially in the Indonesian market.
Last year the state exported $230 million worth of cattle, but only $6 million worth of horticulture products, ABC Rural reports.
The Northern Territory Farmers Association (NTFA) has recommended more be done to tap into the Indonesian market, in its submission to the federal government’s Northern Australia Development White Paper.
Chief executive of the NTFA, Gran Fenton said Australia needs to shift its focus into commodities that Indonesia wants, like soybeans, sugar, cotton and peanuts.
"They import an enormous amount of soybeans from the US and Brazil, [so] that's the kind of stuff we need to be connecting to,” Fenton said.
"The key for us here is what is the crop and what's the markets telling us? Where can you make a dollar? Our focus is about identifying the key markets and economics and they're the key drivers in terms of growing produce in the North."
Vietnam’s CT Group hopes to become the world’s biggest exporter of dragon fruit, and has plans to grow up to 10,000 hectares of the fruit in the Northern Territory.
According to the ABC, if the plan gets the go-ahead, the farm will be the biggest of its kind in Australia.
The CT Group has met with members of the Northern Territory government detailing its plans, and the NT Primary Industry minister, Willem Westra van Holthe, said the company currently has a lot of small farms growing dragon fruit in Vietnam, which makes logistics difficult.
"So what they're looking for is a big-scale farm, and the Northern Territory is a place they're seriously looking at, and they're looking at something like 10,000 hectares of dragon fruit in the NT,” he said, before adding that he thinks CT Group’s plans in Australia are a “terrific idea”.
"It would provide jobs for Territorians, I have no doubt about that. They'll need to buy irrigation equipment, set the farm up, they're talking about a processing facility as well, so there will need to be some building and there'll definitely be some significant benefits flowing just from that,” he said.
The Australian Agricultural Company’s $91 million meatworks is expected to be operational by the second half of 2014, with construction well underway (see images below).
According to the ABC, the project is probably the most important agricultural project in northern Australia this year, and is expected to process more than 1,000 head of cattle a day at full capacity.
Located 50 kilometres south of Darwin, the abattoir will produce export beef products, hides and rendered products for markets in the US, Asia and Europe, with stock sourced from northern Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
The danger posed to wildlife by plastic waste is well documented, as is the life of non-biodegradable waste in landfill or the landscape. Beverage containers comprised 38% of the waste collected on the 2012 Clean Up Australia Day. Despite these containers being recyclable, they are still ending up in our urban and rural landscapes.
A heightened awareness of waste and recycling has put a strong public focus on container deposit legislation (CDL) schemes as a means of reducing the amount of glass, plastic and aluminium going into landfill or the landscape.
The basis of CDL is that consumers pay a refundable deposit on drinks sold in recyclable containers, and can redeem the deposit by returning the container to a range of points, including retailers and recycling depots.
South Australia instigated a CDL scheme in 1975 with a refundable deposit of five cents on recyclable drink containers. The deposit was increased to ten cents in 2008. Over a number of years other states and territories have investigated the application of the scheme and, in an effort to address waste in the Northern Territory, the Territory government passed their own CDL scheme in 2011.
Public approval of the CDL scheme in South Australia is very high, at around 98% and there is considerable and growing support for similar schemes in the other states.
The waste stats demonstrate the scheme’s success in reducing plastic and glass litter: the 2012 Clean Up Australia Day Rubbish Report shows that plastics made up just 28% of total rubbish collected in South Australia, whereas in NSW and Victoria, where there is no CDL scheme, plastics amounted to 38% and 34% respectively. Similarly the proportion of glass collected in SA was about half that collected in NSW and Victoria.
After the introduction of the Northern Territory’s CDL scheme last year, multinational beverage giant, Coca-Cola Amatil (CCA), announced that it would mount a legal challenge against the scheme. The reason provided by the company was that it didn’t want to see Territory households pay up to 20 cents extra for drinks when the deposit was factored in along with the administrative charges for the scheme.
Such concern for struggling families by one of the world’s largest corporate giants was touching, in the same way as a crocodile’s concern for a lone swimmer in a Kakadu waterhole is touching.
As well as Coca-Cola and its diet variations, CCA also owns Fanta, Mountain Dew, Lift, Sprite, Mother, Powerade, Pump water, Mount Franklin water and the Kirks and Becks brand drinks. Its share of the Australian soft drink market is around 56%, as well as 45% of the sports drink market and 25% of the bottled water market. At stake is not the household budgets of Territorians, but the profit margin of the company if consumers respond to a price rise by buying less of the product.
The legal grounds for the challenge was the Commonwealth Mutual Recognition Act 1992. The Act was passed in order to ensure that goods and services are provided in all state and territory jurisdictions under the same conditions.
The federal court found that as CCA is selling drinks in containers, the drinks, and not just the containers, are subject to the ten cent deposit. Therefore, as other states – with the exception of SA whose CDL is exempt under the Act as it was in operation prior to the passage of the Act – do not have CDL, then the Northern Territory’s scheme places a condition on drinks sold in that jurisdiction that does not exist elsewhere.
In the wake of the court decision, industrial sabotage activist group, Out Of Order, responded by putting “Out of Order” signs on CCA vending machines in all capital cities. This action has the potential to affect CCA’s profit margin far more than the implementation of CDL in Australia’s least populous jurisdiction.
The Territory’s CDL scheme is hardly going to make a dent in CCA’s profits and the company knows it. The legal case against the Northern Territory’s waste reduction scheme is more about sending a message to other Australian states that may be considering a similar scheme.
The company’s tactic, however, may come unstuck next month when, as anticipated, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) begins steps towards adopting a plan for a nationwide CDL scheme that will see all states and territories introducing a similar scheme to that which SA has been using for four decades, thus removing the possibility for any legal challenge under the Commonwealth Mutual Recognition Act.
Robin Tennant-Wood does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
This effectively means that the container tax doesn't apply to beverages manufactured in other states but sold in the Northern Territory.
CEO of the AFGC, Gary Dawson, said the judgement demonstrates that the NT scheme is flawed.
"Industry reiterates, and has made numerous approaches to the Northern Territory Government, that there are better, cheaper and simpler solutions to reduce waste and boost recycling that don't cost consumers and are easy to implement. The AFGC and its members remain ready to work with the government to roll these solutions out across the Territory," he said.
Dawson said the scheme has increased grocery bills for consumers, many of whom are already recycling and "doing the right thing", and has been plagued with commercial disputes and low participation rates.
"The government's own published results show that more than two-thirds of drink containers sold into the Territory have not been returned and are still ending up in landfill or as litter. For all the expense and inconvenience, the scheme is clearly not delivering for the environment," he said.
CCA to drop prices
Following the ruling, CCA announced it will be reducing its prices in the Northern Territory while at the same time working with the state's government and Keep Australia Beautiful to minimise all litter and expand recycling projects.
CCA said the NT scheme has been an "environmental failure" with just one out of three containers sold being recycled, well below the national average.
A statement issued by the global beverage giant reiterates its commitment to recycling and minimising its environmental impact.
"CCA has invested $450 million into technology to produce lightweight bottles, and in fact now makes the lightest weight PET plastic bottles in the global Coca-Cola system, and which has enabled us to reduce the carbon footprint of our PET packaging by more than 20 percent," the statement reads.
CCA has been lobbying against a similar scheme in Wesern Australia where beverage manufacturers are charged a levy for each can or bottle they produce, and consumers are paid a small amount for handing containers in to recycling points.
Its opposition to such schemes has, however, led to criticism from environmental groups including the Conservation Council of WA, which has accused CCA of putting profits ahead of community concerns.
Three of Australia's biggest beverage manufacturers have united to oppose the Northern Territory's 'cash for cans' recycling scheme.
Usually fierce competitors, Coca-Cola Amatil, Schwepps and Lion Co have joined forces to oppose the scheme in Federal Court.
According to the AFR, the companies are arguing that the recycling scheme, similar to what's already operating in South Australia, has pushed beverage prices up and has failed in its environmental goals, with two out of three containers sold in the Northern Territory not being recycled – a statistic well below the national average.
The scheme involves a 10c deposit on drinks, which will be returned when the can is returned to a designated recycling agent.
Coca-Cola Amatil has said if they're successful in court, the company will reduce prices for NT retailers and work to refund consumers already hit with the deposits.
The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) is also opposed to the scheme, and said yesterday's Greenpeace protest outside CCA's Sydney office is another example of the environmental lobby trying to pull the wool over consumers' eyes.
Two Greenpeace activists were arrested yesterday after yielding a banner outside the Sydney office which displayed an image of a dead albatross with its cut-open stomach full of plastic. The sign read "Brought to you by Coca-Cola."
Earlier this month Coca-Cola was accused on hampering Western Australia's efforts to improve its recycling standards, with the Conservation Council of WA arguing the company is putting its profits ahead of community concerns.
AFGC's CEO Gary Dawson said the scheme which Greenpeace and other environmental groups oppose so strongly will cost consumers at the checkout.
"All Australians need to know that the Council of Australian Governments has found the cost of this scheme will be up to $1.76 billion to the economy," he said.
"Industry wants more recycling and less litter and we have a plan to deliver it at no cost to consumers. That's the plan that Australia needs, not an inconvenient and costly drink container tax."
Two abattoirs in Australia’s north have been approved, but according to Member for Kennedy, Bob Katter, the close proximity of the facilities will not be a problem.
One facility is near Darwin and the other in Cloncurrry, in north-west Queensland.
The Conclurry facility in the Northern Territory was approved by the state government earlier this month.
The meatworks facility will have the capacity to process 1000 animals a day.
On Wednesday the Australian Agricultural Company (AACo) announced it plans to purchase 600 hectares near Darwin for its northern abattoir project.
Currently there are not any major meat processing faculties located in the Northern Territory, top end of Queensland or Western Australia, so Katter believes the construction of two in relatively close proximity will not be an issue.
"I don't think [it will be a problem]. I really don't because there's room for one in Darwin, too," he said.
Katter said if the Katter Australian Party had been elected in the recent Queensland election, it would have ensured all graziers and cattleman in the Mid West and Gulf would have access to irrigation.
It would have justified the development of "two meatworks to service the Gulf and Mid West,” he said.
Katter said his proposal could "easily turn off half a million head of cattle a year," as the processing facility cuts the weight of the meat to one-third for easier transport to the Port of Townsville.
"It would double production, double carrying capacity, and they wouldn't have setbacks in a drought if they had irrigation on farms," he said.
"Why the government won't allow it is beyond my wildest stretch of imagination."
There are reports that a Chinese investment group has made a bid to buy 15 000 hectares in the Kimberly for beef and sugar production to meet the demand of China's rising middle class.
The company, trading as Kimberly Agricultural Investments (KAI) apparently wants to purchase the entire Ord Expansion Project in Western Australia’s Kimberly region, according to The Australian.
The Ord is newly irrigated land which comes with permanent water rights attached.
KAI is proposing to build a $100 million sugar mill and an abattoir which could process 500 000 cattle per year on the land, if it wins the entire 15 000 hectares of Stage-2 land.
It wants to be able to grow up to 40 000 hectares of sugar crops in the region.
It has been reported that KAI’s indented production on the land will aim to meet the demands of China’s growing middle class for more sugar, beef and biofuel.
The WA government is spending $311 million expanding the Ord irrigation scheme and 14 companies and individual farmers are vying for a part in it as it becomes one of Australia’s major food regions.
They have all submitted applications for land within the Ord area, but it is not clear whether any company other than KAI has applied to buy the entire expansion project.
Some of those bidders are also proposing to grow sugar on the land, while others have submitted applications to grow cotton, sandalwood, chia, mangoes and bananas.
John Moulden, Shire president for Wyndham East Kimberley told the ABC that a substantial offer from a big company would have a good shot at buying the land.
"I think in the end it comes down to what represents the best value locally and for the government," he said.
"If it's judged finally that a large-scale foreign bid represented best value then I think it's a pretty strong argument.
"I guess you'd be measuring value principally in employment opportunities. I'd want to see opportunities for the locals and particularly the Miriuwung Gajerrong people were the best we could get.
"If there were local farmers who had an interest in getting a bit more land, it would be very disappointing if they weren't able to. It wouldn't be a good look at all.
"I think there's a great deal of attraction in getting more family operations into the region, but how realistic that is now, I'm not quite sure."
One company, how many benefits?
If one company was awarded the rights to develop more than 8000 hectares, the terms of the deal would change from a freehold land sale to a long-term lease of about 50 years.
The Australian reports that KAI is also in discussions with the WA, Northern Territory and federal governments and traditional Aboriginal landowners the Miriuwung Gajerrong Corporation to develop even more bushland into a food production hotspot.
It wants an extra 15 000 hectares of adjacent bushland on the Northern Territory side of the Kimberley border.
Chinese agricultural corporation COFCO was also vying for the land until it purchased the Tully sugar mill in north Queensland last August.
A key component in the project was establishing job opportunities for local Indigenous people, and KAI has expressed a commitment to ensure the employment of Aboriginal people and respect for native titles.
A proposed abattoir in Darwin which would crate almost 300 jobs has been backed by Australia’s largest cattle company and the Australian Greens party.
If the abattoir goes ahead, it will create jobs for the region, alleviate animal cruelty and reduce live exports, according to the Greens, who have called on the federal government to support the development.
“The Gillard government should get behind a new Darwin abattoir proposed by the Australian Agricultural Company which is estimated to create 270 jobs,” Greens Senator and animal welfare spokesperson Lee Rhiannon said.
“By growing the Australian meat processing industry we can create an alternative to live exports as well as thousands of jobs.
The Greens want live export banned, believing that sending the animals overseas is damaging to the local industry.
“Australian Bureau of Statistics data tracks the decline in the number of meat processing jobs in Australia, from between 40,000 to 48,000 workers in the 1970s to around 32,000 workers in 2009,” Rhiannon said.
“There were 475 abattoirs in Australia at the end of the 1970s, dropping to 315 abattoirs by 1995/96.
“The Greens will continue our campaign to ban live animal exports which would not only end the cruel suffering of animals, but see abattoirs re-opened, especially in northern Australia.
The banana industry has managed to avoid the public backlash against genetically modified (GM) food.
In the Northern Territory, a maximum area of 1.5 hectares can have GM bananas planted, following an application by the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) which was approved by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR) in January 2011.
It allowed a controlled release of 151 lines of GM banana at Litchfield Municipality, near Darwin.
Prof James Dale ran a workshop for all local banana growers to let them know what was happening when the vitamin biofortificiation project in Innisfail began, and believes it is the transparency that has allowed the crops to be planted, the North Queensland Register reports.
“We’ve had no push back at all, which has been wonderful,” he said.
He said though the trials are targeted toward a product that would eventually be grown in Africa, it is important to keep people informed.
“It’s really important to keep everyone informed about what is going on.