The man behind the largest dryland agricultural project in North Queensland has vowed to continue the fight against the Palaszczuk Government’s proposed tree clearing laws for the sake of the next generation of farmers.
Scott Harris is developing a cropping project on Strathmore Station, west of Georgetown, a one million hectare pastoral lease, the largest single pastoral lease in Queensland.
In January 2014, he secured a permit to clear 58,000 hectares of vegetation.
When the North Queensland Register visited on Sunday, Mr Harris’s crew was in the midst of harvesting 12,000 hectares of sorghum.
“We’ve got 12,000 hectares of grain sorghum this year which is going reasonably well,” Mr Harris said.
“We are hoping to plant out the rest of the cleared land into dryland sorghum and then after that we will seek a water allocation out of the Gilbert River. With irrigated cropping we will end up with two crops a year.”
When he arrived on Strathmore 12 years ago, Mr Harris was taken by the “good soil, flat land and big rivers.”
“We got one of the first development approvals for farming and then all of a sudden the LNP Government got booted out. Ever since then we have had no end of trouble.”
Mr Harris said Strahmore had been visited by the “tree police”, accompanied by two car loads of police officers kitted out in bullet proof vests and guns.
“It’s not a good feeling,” he said.
“Under this government we have some pretty heavy legal action going on. We have the fight of our lives. But I am prepared and we are going to fight like hell.
“This is about my kids and their kids too.
“At the end of the day I have my permits and we have made good progress but I am fighting it for other producers that haven’t had the benefit of getting permits through in this region.”
Mr Harris, who has invested $25 million into the project to date, said the development on Strathmore could deliver 300 jobs.
“It gives us another source of income,” Mr Harris said.
“Out of the crop residue we will be able to double cattle numbers.”
The property currently runs about 50,000 head of Droughtmaster-cross cattle.
The cattle are currently bred on Strathmore and sent to fatten at Tambo but the cropping will allow for it all to be done on Strathmore, with cattle sent to live export or meatworks at Townsville.
Mr Harris believes the campaign against the Palaszczuk Government’s attempts to repeal the current tree clearing laws is based on trust.
“All these people in the cities trust us, as agricultural producers, to put food on their plate,” Mr Harris said. “Not just any old food but good quality food.
“But they won’t trust us with the environment on which we grow and produce the food. If you are going to trust a farmer to feed you, trust them to do it properly.
“We have got to maintain that land to keep doing it, so we are going to look after it to put that food on the table. Leave things be. We will look after it.”
The father of three – Christina, 19, Tom, 16, and Harry, 2 – fears agricultural development will stagnate if the bill is passed.
He said the federal and state governments had to find common ground on the issue. ”We can’t keep tying people up for 20 years at a time waiting for something to happen. There is a tremendous amount of anger.”