THE Etheridge Shire is poised to get a $2 billion investment boost through the establishment of a world class integrated agri-processing precinct in the district.
The ambitious project will also see an expansion of cropping to 75,000 hectares and installation of a sugar and bio-ethanol mill, guar gum plant, 400,000 tonnes per year of stock feed and a meat processing plant.
The Bio-processing Precinct will be established in the existing Gilbert River farming district.
Mayor Will Attwood said the global demand for carbohydrate and bio-processing continues to climb as population increases and people world-wide respond to the challenges of a warming planet.
Indonesia, the world’s largest importer of sugar, is closer to Georgetown than Melbourne highlighting the export opportunity for the project.
“We have seen increasing interest in agricultural development of the region and the depth and breadth of project comes as no surprise to us," Cr Attwood said.
“The region has sufficient land and water to support several such agri-projects. Based on its conducive natural climate, rich fertile soils and vast water supplies, the Etheridge Shire is a platform for large scale bio-production”.
The company behind the Etheridge Tropical Bio-processing Project, Integrated Food and Energy Developments Pty Ltd known as IFED, will commence trial planting and aims to begin an extensive approval process. Construction is expected to commence in 2015 and production to start in 2019.
Chairman Keith De Lacy said the initial investment would total nearly $2 billion and create 1250 full-time, skilled jobs.
“A lot of interest has been generated in the Project as the Asian market has a growing regional sugar deficit”.
Mr De Lacy said the integrated farming and bio-processing precinct represented a new, clean industry for the Gulf and a new model for Northern Australia which has the potential to be the largest agricultural region in Australia.
“In the past, state governments would take a lead role in developing infrastructure to support agriculture. Their powers of land resumption and low cost financing offered an attractive method of financing and delivery large scale infrastructure.
“However, we recognise that these days of nation-building agri-development are past. But the Etheridge Shire sees the value of agriculture. Unlike extractive resource industries, sustainable agriculture is there forever and provides a solid foundation for long term community growth, wealth creation and skills development.
“This closed system allows us to use all of the sugar cane and its by-products. There’s no waste, and it’s carbon-neutral.
“The sugar cane will be processed into raw sugar and bio-ethanol. By-products like bagasse will be used to generate electricity and stock feed which will enable graziers to breed and fatten cattle with the confidence of knowing that a market for cattle is available.
“This eliminates the expense and hardship of breeding and trucking cattle to southern fattening areas."
Mr De Lacy said the company has already secured privately-owned land for the Project and will continue to assess other suitable land parcels.
The region is blessed with a unique mix of water, sunshine and soils.
Etheridge Mayor Will Attwood said the project was one of the biggest developments to come to the Gulf Savannah in decades.
“It’s a really welcome development, not just in terms of investment dollars and jobs, but in the way it establishes a whole new industry for this shire and creates further potential for investment in new green industries.
“It also provides some diversification, without undermining the cattle industry or taking existing cropping land out of production.”