$400m boost in fresh food could flow from planned pipeline

Queensland farmers have embarked on an ambitious project to pipe water from the underutilised Burdekin Falls Dam to the Bowen-Gumlu horticulture district.

Key points:The 93km pipeline was first proposed in 1983 when the Burdekin Falls Dam was constructedPrivate investors are backing the 100,000ML pipeline which has attracted $5 million in federal financeIf it goes ahead, construction won't begin until 2023 at the earliest

A detailed business study for the 93-kilometre pipeline has been funded with $5 million in federal government money for a detailed case to be completed by mid-2023.

The Bowen-Gumlu region is Australia's major winter horticulture region and grows $500 million in produce annually, a figure proponents say could nearly double to $900 million with 100,000 megalitres of piped water added.

The planned three-metre diameter underground pipeline would be extruded in 100-metre lengths on-site to reduce freight costs and provide about 145 construction jobs.

Despite a failed 2009 Sunwater proposal and other schemes dating back to 1983, Gumlu farmer Laurie Land said this latest attempt has the best shot at success.

"It's privately-funded, that's the way it's going to go, and it's got a better chance of getting off the ground this time," he said.

"Water's worth more than land. You can't grow much without water."

Viability study underway

With 39 shareholders investing in the Bowen Pipeline Company (BPC) chaired by former AgForce and National Farmers' Federation president Brent Finlay, many farmers are confident of the project's success.

Profile of a man in a suit.
Brent Finlay says strong investor support will be critical to building the pipeline which could irrigate 20,000 hectares.(ABC Rural: Anna Vidot)

While majority-owned by the region's farmers, Mr Finlay said the pipeline also represented opportunities for aquaculture and industrial users.

"Some don't have enough water and some don't have water at all. It's about moving water that's underutilised to the fantastic soils of the region," he said.

The proposed alignment generally follows the Bruce Highway from the Burdekin Bridge at Home Hill to Merinda on the edge of the Bowen district.

map showing pipeline alignment
The planned pipeline would link the Burdekin River at Home Hill with Merinda in the Bowen horticulture region.(Supplied: BPC)

Defending the BPC's chances of construction, Mr Finlay cited the private investment interest already generated.

"People look to governments to build infrastructure, but that will come out of the detailed business case — what is the [public-private funding] mix that will be there?" he said.

Water could unlock country

About 20,000 hectares of land with high-quality soil near Gumlu and Guthalungra presently lacks a reliable water supply.

The country is among the driest on Australia's east coast and is used for grazing beef cattle with isolated pockets of mangoes and an annual production of melons, pumpkins, zucchinis and capsicums.

Laurie Land said limited water storage on his mixed horticulture farm meant two-fifths of his property was underutilised.

backpackers on fruit picking trailer
Laurie Land says he'd buy up to 150ML of water annually to expand production on his Gumlu farm.(ABC Rural: Tom Major)

"We have some bores around the farm but most water comes from overland flow which we harvest during the wet season in our 150-megalitre dam," Mr Land said.

"Potentially we could use another 100 to 150 megalitres if the pipeline is built. We always struggle to get enough water for our crops here."

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The Gumlu grower said a price of $200 to $500 per megalitre could be affordable for growers, depending on the crop grown.

"There's been suggestions about hemp crops. We've diversified into gherkin cucumbers in the past as well," he said.

The scheme would be limited to trickle and drip irrigation users only, if built.

Posted 8 Nov 20218 Nov 2021Mon 8 Nov 2021 at 7:39pmShareCopy linkFacebookTwitterArticle share optionsShare this onFacebookTwitterLinkedInSend this byEmailMessengerCopy linkWhatsApp


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