Turning Wheat Fields Into Something Much Better!
The Wheatbelt in Western Australia's Great Southern is known for farming wheat and sheep but a WA-based start-up company wants to show that it is also possible to grow vegetables.
Funded entirely through private equity, Wide Open Agriculture plans to build a 1,500 square metre pilot greenhouse on a farm near Arthur River in the Wheatbelt, looking to harvest capsicum, tomato and cucumber crops this December.
Wide Open Agriculture managing director and Narrogin local Dr Ben Cole sakd the idea came about from wanting to offer some diversification to the already established farming practices in the Wheatbelt.
"Wheat and sheep have been the predominant focus but [we wanted] to create a diversified option, to look at what else is available, and what we saw was that horticulture offered us a really great first step in diversification," he said.
"It is quick cash flow, it is a crop that is well-suited to this climate, and it was really just that matter of water, making sure we had a good solid source of water and we think we've solved that as well."
Following a number of very dry winters the Wheatbelt has experienced some serious water shortages, and despite horticulture being incredibly water intensive, Dr Cole was confident the company would have sufficient water to grow vegetables in the area.
"We are using roaded catchment technology. We've got one of the leading surface water hydrologists and we've asked him to look at a number of properties and say which one offers the best potential for catching water," Dr Cole said.
"What you see is if you're catching water right through the summer and winter rains, you can actually store enough to run a greenhouse of this size and larger.
"We're also using very good drip technology because drip irrigation really puts water where you need it.
"Horticulture is certainly working in Israel, Morocco, Turkey, these climates are almost identical to ours in regards to rainfall and heat."
Dr Cole said the company's aim was to attract private investors to the Wheatbelt who have a financial, social and environmental conscience.
"Returns are very much focused on finance, but we also believe that for every hectare of land let's look beyond the cash. Let's look at the social returns, let's get people back to the Wheatbelt, let's create great interesting jobs down here. Let's do good things for the landscape, let's protect the soil and water quality," he said.
Wide Open Agriculture aims to provide job opportunities to new Australians or migrants wanting to break into farming in the Wheatbelt but lacking broadacre farming experience.
The company aims to harvest its first crop in December and is actively raising funds for a second greenhouse, with plans to begin construction in 2017.
Wagin shire also looks to diversify farming practices
The Wagin Shire has been working with Curtin University to try and transform its traditional wheat and sheep growing region by starting up a local aquaponics industry.
Aquaponics combines aquaculture and hydroponics, allowing the simultaneous growth of fish and vegetables.
Unigrain operates an oat mill in Wagin and the company has acquired a water desalination system, so the Wagin Shire now has access to a considerable amount of desalinated water.
Wagin shire chief executive officer Peter Webster said the shire would utilise this water to grow leafy greens, herbs and barramundi.
Mr Webster said it was a positive step for the community and the young people living in the Wagin Shire.
"It's a job opportunity for the community and also helps to diversify things, instead of being solely reliant on farming, which this community always will be," Mr Webster said.
Mr Webster hoped to have the aquaponics project up and running by December 2017, initially starting out with a small scale project and eventually building on the enterprise.