WATER is the key to unlocking further high value agricultural land in Lakeland, Cape York Peninsula, a leading cropping farmer believes.
Paul Inderbitzin farms 250 hectares in a family partnership with his parents Tom and Trish Inderbitzin, and brother Martin. They grow 60 ha of bananas and 190 ha of high value seed crops including sorghum, sunflower and dolichos lablab.
Tom and his brother Peter first arrived in Lakeland over 30 years ago, having farmed successfully on the rich red volcanic soils of the Atherton Tablelands.
“It was cheaper, good agricultural land,” Paul said. In the time since, the Inderbitzins have established successful farming operations – Peter as Swiss Farms and Tom as Kureen Farming. But water has always been the key.
“Having experienced some tough dry seasons, Peter knew water was the only way they would be successful here because its such an epic dry season,” Paul said. “They bought a farm behind Honey Dam (private dam) and essentially the family bought all farms around the dam as a water source. It holds around about 6000 megalitres.”
Paul, a Nuffield Australia 2013 scholar, said the family built another dam on the property to further secure the farm during the dry season.
“We will continue to grow bananas predominantly and broadacre crops on the side but whether we venture into other horticultural crops hinges on water,” Paul said. “Water is central to everything we do. Lakeland is the last good agricultural soil in the Cape. The only thing we need is more water and we have the potential to be another food bowl like the Atherton Tablelands.
“Of the 15,000 ha that was cleared before we moved into the area, there is only enough water to irrigate approximately 2000 ha."
Paul believes bananas grown in Lakeland are “as good as if not better” than what’s grown on the coast.
“Bananas grow beautifully up here,” Paul said.
“The quality is second to none not to mention bunch size and finger length.
“They just get more daylight hours here. It’s bigger and better because they just get more daylight hours here. If we are keeping the water and fertiliser up and the sun is there doing its thing, the plant does its job.”
Paul said the farms had invested heavily in protocols to delay and hopefully stop the spread of Panama disease onto their farms.
“It was found in Darwin in 1997 and was detected last year on the coast,” Paul said. “It has spread just through humans being human"
Ironically, Paul studied disease and quarantine challenges for the banana industry as part of his Nuffield Scholarship.