From the editor

Conditions in Central Australia and the Barkly still remain dry, but I am hesitant to talk about the weather, even if it is the greatest ice-breaking conversation starter that Australians have ever invented.

This dry patch underlines that water is the commodity of greatest value and need in our environment. The newsfeed I get on my phone is busy with articles about water, the lack of it for irrigation, the overuse of it and harm to the environment, the contamination of it with firefighting chemicals, the reservation of it for future use by Aboriginal communities.

Finalisation of the water allocation plan for the Western Davenport region and the near completion of the plan for Ti Tree represents an opportunity, as does the passing of legislation to legalise the production of hemp for fibre and food. It will be interesting to see how this industry might develop. Trials our department completed in Katherine in 2016 showed seed yields of between four and six tonnes per hectare of low tetra-hydra cannabinol (THC) varieties. This yield was developed over a fairly short growing season of 90 days, under irrigation during the top end dry season. It will be interesting to see the response of crops over slightly longer days in Central Australia, with different temperature profiles.

I recently attended the Annual General Meeting of the Australian Date Growers Association in Lyrup, South Australia. Dates are being grown commercially in South Australia’s Riverland, and most of the Association’s membership is from there. For Central Australia, dates have been part of the landscape since the 1800s, with commercial production beginning in the 1950s.

Dates also use a lot of water, and are tolerant of poor quality, high salt water, which is good, considering the quality of water in many local bores. There is a market niche for khalal style (crunchy yellow) dates of the Barhee variety. These are highly sought after, especially in the Middle East, and because of their fresh nature they cannot be stored as easily as dried Medjool dates.

As Australia is counter-seasonal to the northern hemisphere, this is a real opportunity to produce a high value, low volume product for export.

The advantage central Australia has over date growers in the Riverland is higher temperatures at pollination, meaning more reliable fruit set, something for which Barhee is quite sensitive.

With wastewater being generated of reasonably poor quality in communities across the centre, maybe markets and product and water can come together for some income generation.

This rural review has a few invitations to events. Please consider attending the Old Man Plains Field Day on Thursday 26September, the Desert Poppies ‘connecting remote women through creativity’ ladies day on Friday 2 November and the ‘climate variability and grazing risk management’ workshops on Tuesday 17 September (Barkly) or Wednesday 18 September (Tennant Creek). See inside for more details.

Stuart Smith, Editor.

Last updated: 28 September 2020

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