Acotanc: Official Opening

Official Opening

Author: Kim Chance
Minister for Agriculture
Organization: Western Australian Government
11th Floor, Dumas House
2 Havelock Street
West Perth WA 6005
Phone: +61 8-92136700 Fax: +61 8-92136701

The President, Mr Stanley Parkinson, Mr David Noel, the Convener and Director of the Tree Crop Centre, and all of those distinguished international and interstate visitors who are here with us today, Ladies and Gentlemen. My thanks go the West Australian Nut and Tree Crop Association for their kind invitation to speak to you today on the occasion of the Ninth Australasian Conference. This conference is an excellent opportunity for all facets of the industry to meet and share their knowledge. It also shows the growing sense of unity and expansion of this new industry across Australia, so it is particularly pleasing to hear reports of the large numbers of international and interstate visitors here today.

The theme of the Conference, ?Tree Crops Essential for the Earth,? encapsulates the WA Government?s focus on working with industry to be innovative and to produce high-quality agricultural products in a sustainable way. Now, more than ever, new industries are vital to the sustainability of agriculture. We live in an era of unprecedented competition for world markets; we live in an era of unprecedented oversight of our ecological practices. Consumer tastes are now more sophisticated than ever before, and our agricultural products must meet the changing demands of both Australian and international markets. Unreliable environmental conditions, volatile commodity prices and more resourceful competitors are constant challenges to Australian agriculturalists.

New industry development is no longer just an option to be considered; it is an imperative, now, an imperative for the growth of our agricultural sector, if it is to grow at all. Previous generations built highly productive agricultural systems in what were new, foreign and harsh environments. While past advances have been commendable, today we recognise the need to operate in much greater harmony with the environment.

In addition to the clear, environmental benefits, the expansion of Western Australian tree crop industries makes good economic sense. There are, of course, a number of horticultural tree crops already being successfully grown in WA: mangoes for example; apples, for over a century; citrus, avocados, table and wine grapes, just to name a few.

However, there are further opportunities which are being developed, or which require further development. Some of these include almonds, pistachios, oil mallees, sandalwood and olives. Interestingly, some of those crops are amongst the oldest in the world. There is little recognition, for example, that world-wide almond exports are worth in excess of two billion dollars per annum, and that we are positioned on the doorstep of the fastest growing in-shell almond market in the world. India is currently importing $200 million worth of in-shell almonds, the majority of which is supplied all the way from California.

The international trade in pistachio nuts is also worth over one billion dollars per annum, while availability of water may limit development of large areas of pistachios in WA, opportunities are available for the development of clusters of small orchards in the wheatbelt. Recent visitors to the state from Iran, the world?s largest producer, has indicated significant interest in the establishment of a processing plant in WA which could develop as a cluster of orchards totaling 1000 hectares. Clearly, this represents both an opportunity providing both environmental benefits and income diversification for the wheatbelt.

An integrated oil mallee demonstration plant using technology developed by the CSIRO will be built next year in Narrogin by Western Power. This plant will produce enough renewable energy for over 1000 homes. It will also produce 700 tonnes of activated carbon and 200 tonnes of eucalyptus oil annually. Producing these three key products at a single plant will ensure a commercially competitive operation.

Sandalwood, again, one of the ancient crops, is still a major tree crop export from Western Australia. It is worth up to 15 million dollars, from 2000 tonnes, annually. But almost all of the current harvest is pulled from natural stands in the rangelands. Earlier last century, huge quantities of sandalwood were exported, much of it from the wheatbelt during its initial clearing phase. That resource out of the wheatbelt has never been replaced. The opportunity now exists to develop sandalwood production on the same farmland that was originally cleared for that purpose. Significant research by various agencies, including Agriculture Western Australia, the CSIRO and Curtin University, has developed successful establishment techniques for sandalwood and the host plantations. Although adoption rate by landowners, to date, has been slow.

A recent survey of WA olive growers has revealed the expansion of that industry with approximately 725,000 trees already planted, and at least a further 1.7 million trees to be planted over the next 2 to 4 years. However, for the olive industry to become viable and sustainable in the long term, the development of efficient production systems and successful marketing strategies is going to be required. The number of olive trees planted in Australia is estimated to be 5 million, which could be producing around 40,000 tonnes of oil by 2008. Considering that local olive oil consumption is now around 24,000 tonnes, marketing this oil in the international market is going to be a major challenge for the industry.

We will also be working to expand the maritime pine industry. This is something that I have a particular interest in, as it crosses over between two of my portfolios, agriculture and forestry. The maritime pine project will be expanded into much drier environments than forestry has ever been practiced on this scale, I think, anywhere in the world. This species has the potential to fight salinity and to deliver an economic return in low-rainfall environments. We will be particularly interested in working with farmers in maritime pine trials right out to the 14 inch, 350 mm rainfall level, and as a pilot, right on beyond that.

In terms of improving the environment, trees offer benefits in managing excess water, and in keeping water tables at an acceptable level. It?s a peculiar contradiction that our salinity problems in those low rainfall areas arise from a surplus of that one element that we are so short of: water. By reducing water table levels and thereby keeping salinity at bay, it is possible that maritime pine will present an important element of that matrix of solutions which are going to be necessary to address the salinity problems in the wheatbelt.

For some areas affected by salinity tree crops can do just that, but these opportunities need to be carefully researched in order to ensure that they do offer a long-term and sustainable solution. Commercial tree plantings can also help to conserve remnant vegetation, that is, remnant native vegetation on farms, by surrounding patches of native vegetation with vigorously growing trees. Rising water tables and exposure to wind are reduced in this way. Both of those factors are currently impinging upon the remnant vegetation that is still in place.

Trees and nut crops provide an important opportunity for enterprise diversification on our wheatbelt farms, and have the potential to contribute significantly to both the economy and to the environment. Today we face not only the challenge to revegetate large areas of land in order to ensure sustainability, but to do that in a way that will maintain and build on farm profitability. In short, the environment and the economy have to make sense at the same time.

If we are to provide the impetus for revegetation, we must do so by providing profitable, new farming systems that better integrate traditional practices and that introduce new environmental solutions. It is through conferences like this one that we can begin to think outside the traditional square, and we can explore innovative solutions and the opportunities that they present for the agricultural sector. It now gives me great pleasure to officially declare the 2001 Conference officially open. Thank you.