Is dairy farming in the future of the Pilbara?

Is dairy farming in the future of the Pilbara?

The hot and dry Pilbara region in Western Australia would not traditionally be considered an ideal location for dairy farming, but this could be on the cards, according to Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) Director General Rob Delane.

Speaking to ABC Rural on July 28, Mr Delane explained that while extensive agricultural projects in the harsh Pilbara soil may sound far-fetched, current irrigation and water recycling projects are proving that it’s possible.

“It’s quite possible we could have cotton production here, or horticulture with mining camps turned into major backpacker camps for seasonal picking,” he said. “My favourite is that it’s possible we could have red and black dairy cows here.”

Supporting these claims, the Pilbara Hinterland Agricultural Development Initiative (PHADI) – delivered by the DAFWA – has been looking into the feasibility of large-scale irrigated horticulture in the region. Previous projects in this study have included some using excess water from local mines to grow cattle feed crops.

“With the right combination of technology, markets and supply chain logistics, it’s technically possible to grow large quantities of premium-priced produce here and for that not to be too many years away,” Mr Delane revealed.

The Pilbara region is currently home to a number of beef-raising businesses, for both local markets and live exports. However, the lack of nearby resources, such as freight channels and supply chain supports, has created challenges for the industry.

Mr Delane believes that increased water sources and irrigation support could encourage a boosted infrastructure to develop that will benefit existing and future agribusinesses, including more cattle farms and potentially dairy farms.

“Certainly we can have much more intensive beef production, which means we could potentially have an abattoir or we could have substantial live shipping chains out of the Pilbara,” he said.

Crucially, while it is likely that these farming endeavours will rely primarily on irrigation and recycled water, the potential for these water sources to impact on the health of the livestock is significant.

In particular, salinity from bore water and recycled water can cause health issues for animals, including scouring and dehydration. This is where a Hydrosmart water treatment system comes in. Installed on saline and hard water, the Hydrosmart solution has been shown to reduce livestock losses and dramatically lessen scouring.

Hydrosmart also dissolves beneficial minerals in water, such as calcium, magnesium and iron, making them more bioavailable to plants and livestock. This can help contribute to good muscle tone in livestock, improving their vigour and resilience, and your business’s bottom line.