FOOD FOCUS: Flynn MP Ken O'Dowd, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Capricornia MP Michelle Landry discuss agricultural opportunities during a visit to a farm on the outskirts of Rockhampton last year.
FOOD FOCUS: Flynn MP Ken O'Dowd, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Capricornia MP Michelle Landry discuss agricultural opportunities during a visit to a farm on the outskirts of Rockhampton last year. Chris Ison ROK271016cpm8

Big read: Focus on Rocky's push for a bright future in agriculture

PRIMARY production investors are showing unprecedented interest in the Rockhampton region.

Agriculture has been identified as one of Central Queensland's big economic opportunities and there's plenty of work going on behind the scenes to the turn the vision into reality.

However, as another Rockhampton delegation returns from overseas (albeit this time from a defence-focused visit), questions are being asked about the agricultural message being sold about the region to the world.

It's been more than two years since Regional Development Australia delivered its comprehensive Growing Central Queensland report which explored how the region could capture sustainable agricultural opportunities.

A key element of the report examined the infrastructure projects that would enable investment.

Outspoken Rockhampton businessman Dominic Doblo, who worked for many years in the fruit and vegie sector, is worried that since that report things are moving too slowly and in the wrong direction with more talk happening than progress.

Going on the front foot, Mr Doblo called on the region's leaders to clearly articulate what the agricultural plan looked like.

He said he'd heard worrying suggestions the blueprint for the future involved exporting crops such as hydroponic lettuces and herbs.

He said these wouldn't work and called for decision makers to look at crops such as lychees and mangoes.

Fearing the region could miss the boat by failing to seize the opportunity, Mr Doblo said people wanted to now see detail.

"We need to see action now before the Chinese have bought all our farms and we're left with nothing,” Mr Doblo said.

"We want to see a two-year plan, not a 20-year plan.”

However, Capricornia MP Michelle Landry said the focus wasn't about dictating what would be grown, but laying the foundation to make invesment in the region appealing.

"Astute investors in agriculture will look, amongst other things, at accessibility, water availability, climate and soil type and assess this against market demand for the type of produce that can be grown,” Ms Landry, who is among the leading voices to build Rookwood Weir, said.

"This can change over time as consumer demand for product changes.

"So our job isn't to dictate what will be grown, investors will decide this for themselves.

"Our job in government is to lay the foundation for making this investment appealing through the right legislation, policies and infrastructure.”

She said in 2015 the government released a clear plan to develop northern Australia, and agriculture was an integral part of this.

"The plan encompasses commitments from the Commonwealth, Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australian governments and will involve working closely with local governments,” Ms Landry said.

"Success is only possible through collaboration at all levels because of the costs and time frames for delivering each part of the plan.

"No single body can realistically achieve this in isolation.”

Ms Landry said having a long-term implementation strategy over two decades would help provide certainty for investors.

"Many of the actions will take years to achieve but the government is already delivering on many of these programs like the Water Infrastructure Fund, Beef Roads,” she said.

"A long-term focus will help bring substantial, structural changes to our region and support meaningful advances in areas such as property rights, more secure and accessible water supplies, better roads, and an internationally competitive business environment.

"What I hope to see is business and government working side by side so that Capricornia doesn't miss out on the opportunities presenting themselves in agriculture.

"We know demand for food is only going to increase.

"We know we can produce it. "We just need to deliver the right infrastructure and investment environment to see it happen.”

At City Hall, Rockhampton Regional Council's Economic Development Team is leading an extensive study to deliver an agricultural investment strategy and attract investment to the region.

Over the past 12 months a working group, involving council representatives, local farmers and government agencies has been formed to identify water access in the region and what can be sold.

Senior executive trade and investment officer Young Beamish is a member of council's economic development team and is playing a key role in the agriculture space.

Ms Beamish said the strategy had already gained strong interest from major Asian countries including China, Singapore, Japan and Korea.

"In the past 12 months seven international delegations have visited the Rockhampton Region to gain a closer insight into primary production opportunities,” Ms Beamish said.

"This strategy, integrated with the agricultural freight opportunities and regional competitiveness, has resulted in our region receiving unprecedented interest from primary production investors.”

Ms Beamish added council's economic development team was currently in the process of evaluating tender submissions to develop agricultural investment projects that were shovel-ready.

"We have also been working with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries on aquaculture opportunities, and have recently submitted an extensive report outlining ideal areas for aquaculture farming, such as barramundi within the Rockhampton Region,” she said.

"There have also been preliminary discussions around how we can gain cargo capacity at our airport.

"This includes possible joint ventures around cargo facility investment as we would be looking to work within a 400km radius for overseas exports.”

Mayor Margaret Strelow told The Morning Bulletin she was proud of the way council's economic development team was "getting down to business and working beside our producers and businesses”.

"Ultimately, council's vision for agriculture, as set out in our Economic Development Plan, is to capitalise on our abundant water and agricultural opportunities to both reinforce our existing base as the beef capital of Australia and to develop new opportunities for other produce,” Cr Strelow said.



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