The construction of three dams around the Mitchell River catchment in far north Queensland could make the region a giant food bowl, a new report from the CSIRO says.
The research mapped three key river systems in northern Australia, including the far north’s Mitchell River, which flows from Mareeba to the Gulf of Carpentaria.
It said construction of three new dams along the Mitchell River could support as much as 140,000 hectares of year-round crop irrigation.
Resources Minister Senator Matthew Canavan said the far north could become a major food production centre, bringing significant economic benefits to the region.
“You would be looking at a $700 million direct benefit, $1.5 billion economy-wide benefit and 7000 jobs as well,” Senator Canavan told the ABC.
“In terms of being able to boost our farm production as a nation, boost our food production, take the potential of growing Asian economies, it’s a big deal for the whole country.”
Mr Canavan said the process would take years, if not decades, to implement.
“We’ve always said our northern Australian agenda was not something for an electoral cycle. It’s not something for us to deliver in just three years … it was something to set the country up, set the north up for decades,” he said.
He said the construction of the dams would come at a $755 million price tag, according to the CSIRO.
“Investing in dams is one of the key ways we can make our country more resilient from drought,” Senator Canavan said.
“In the Mitchell River, the consensus view is that there won’t be much change to rainfall patterns due to climate change.”
He said Indigenous groups would need to be extensively consulted before any decision was made to go ahead with the project.
The study also proposed a fourth dam for the Lynd River on Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula.
The Fitzroy and Darwin rivers in Western Australia and the Northern Territory have also been identified as possible sites for dams in the report.
Mr Canavan said the research, to be released on Thursday, backed a federal government push to make the region the “next great food bowl in our nation”.
“This information should lead every government to hasten towards this opportunity,” he said.
“We have growing demand for food in Asia, abundant soils and water, and it’s time for our country to once again take on a large agricultural nation-building initiative.”