Liebe Group Search for Innovation on the Ord River

In early August, sixteen Liebe Group members and two staff set off in search of innovative ideas from the Ord River Region of Kununurra, WA. Jointly funded by growers through the GRDC’s Grower and Adviser Development program, and the touring growers themselves, the week-long trip allowed attendees to speak with local growers and tour their farms to gain an in-depth view of the advanced farming systems in the region.

The tour visited six farms, which combined grow over 23 different crops including chia, quinoa, corn, maize, coriander, mustard, watermelons, pumpkins, rockmelons, sorghum, cotton, mangoes, limes, bananas, wheat, sunflowers, zucchini, soybeans, mung beans, safflower, kenaf, sandalwood and millet.

The group reported that most Kununurra farmers were growing 6-8 different crops at any time, ensuring diversity in their rotation and farming system. As well as this, they expected to be growing completely different crops again in the next few years. Growers see non-commodity crops as ideal target crops to meet niche market demands.

They found that DAFWA play an important role in the research into new and existing crops in Kununurra, from determining how well they grow in the region through to how to manage them with generally limited crop protection tools available. The department and farmers work closely together to reduce risk and ensure profitability of the crops. Biosecurity was a common concern on all the local farms, and working together as a region is key to ensuring these risks are managed successfully.

Over 7,000ha of bushland is currently being developed through major capital investment by Kimberley Agricultural Investments (KAI). Liebe Group members toured the developing Stage 2 of the Ord Irrigation System, getting a firsthand look into the huge project which will cost $8,000/ha to develop.  KIA is also trialling new irrigation methods for the re-circulation of run-off water from the crops, and an upgrade from the current siphon system.

The importance of rotations in the Kununurra environment was emphasised throughout the trip, making the Liebe growers think differently about their own cropping programs, while also opening their eyes to other opportunities to diversify on their farms back home though activities such as tourism and value adding.

PHOTO: Taste testing fresh watermelons straight out of the paddock at Ceres Farm, Kununurra.
(Source: Liebe Group)

 

This trip allowed the Liebe members to gain perspectives on farming systems, constraints and practices that are very different to their own. The group came away with a revitalised view of their own operations and were reminded that having water isn’t always the silver bullet! One strong theme observed throughout the week was the overwhelmingly positive attitudes of the growers in the Kununurra region, though despite being able to ‘turn the tap on’ whenever they like, farming ‘up there’ definitely had its challenges.

One innovative idea that the group agreed could be implemented in the Wheatbelt region was the idea of raising the profile of crops through marketing. Liebe growers considered that if the amount of time spent on marketing was increased to a level closer to that of the Kununurra growers, perhaps there is opportunity for significant profits due to the large amount of grain produced.

For more information contact Katrina Venticinque, T: 9661 0570. E: admin@liebegroup.org.au.