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Northern Territory ag investment could reach A$1bn: report

New research from CRCNA follows on from reports into aquaculture and timber highlighting the region’s potential if risks can be mitigated and barriers lifted.

Agricultural development in Australia’s Northern Territory could exceed A$1 billion ($723 million; €613 million) if steps are taken to de-risk investment, a report has found.

The latest research from the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia, De-risking, brokering and prioritising agricultural development in the Northern Territory, identified four proposed projects that could attract A$200 million of investment should they proceed.

The research team applied this figure to the master list of 31 proposed projects it had compiled and extrapolated to reach an estimate of more than A$1 billion in investment.

The report, undertaken by NAJA Business Consulting in conjunction with the CRCNA, found that the biggest impediments to agricultural development in the NT were: the complexity of land tenure arrangements; a lack of logistical and telecommunications infrastructure; inappropriate water licences; and processing issues associated with native title groups.

“The opportunity for agricultural development in the Northern Territory is enormous – but the development of northern Australian agriculture has, despite considerable confidence and rhetoric, largely failed to meet its potential or aspirations, particularly when compared or contrasted with southern Australian agriculture,” the report said.

It outlined seven recommendations for de-risking investment in the region:

  • converting parts of a pastoral lease to freehold to unlock land for development
  • prioritisng and establishing well-planned agricultural precincts to foster development
  • enabling and supporting Aboriginal-led agricultural development through an Aboriginal Agricultural Development Steering Group
  • developing a prioritised agricultural infrastructure plan for the NT with a focus on telecommunications, roads, energy, water and processing
  • creating a more effective regulatory system for agricultural development by removing barriers
  • fostering a supportive or more partnership-based development environment with industry and community groups
  • improving relationships and culture to build trust across government, native title groups and industry in order to establish principles of how to work together in agricultural development

CRCNA chief executive Jed Matz told Agri Investor that the work was designed to identify and quantify the issues potential investors face so that government and other stakeholders could prioritise and work on mitigating them.

“De-risking in regulatory processes is something that you can’t just do overnight,” he said.

“It needs to be done hand in hand with industry, community stakeholders and the government so that you don’t have unintended consequences. Regulation is there for a reason, but if we can start to take small steps in the right direction, we can unlock the potential of northern Australia through this process.”

The CRCNA has commissioned similar work for the states of Queensland and Western Australia, with results to be published soon. The findings of the three reports together will paint a fuller picture of the opportunities available in northern Australia if risks for investors can be lowered.

Other research commissioned by the CRCNA this year has found that aquaculture in northern Australia could quintuple production in the next five years, while forestry could triple its output to A$300 million annually within the next five to 10 years.