Fortune Agribusiness’ plan to transform an outback cattle station into one of Australia’s biggest fruit and vegetable farm developments has been hit with criticism from traditional owners.
The Northern Territory government granted a licence allowing 40 gigalitres of water to be pumped from groundwater bores for a 3,500-hectare irrigated horticulture project at Singleton cattle station, about 380km north of Alice Springs.
It’s believed the farm will cultivate permanent crops such as citrus, grapes, avocados, onions, rockmelons and other crops.
Despite experts saying the water would be priced as much as $100 million in other jurisdictions, it was provided to the company for free in four stages over the next decade.
Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security approved a 30-year licence to extract the water, stipulating Fortune Agribusiness would have to comply with strict controls.
Northern Territory controller of water resources Jo Townsend said the protection of environmental and cultural assets, along with the interests of existing users, are always the key priorities when assessing water licence applications.
“That’s why stringent conditions have been attached to this water licence, which will monitored closely by the Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security and publicly reported on,” she said.
“The release of water can and will be withheld should the proponent breach its licence conditions.”
The Central Land Council this week applied for a review “of the unprecedented decision to gift a private company 40,000 megalitres of finite water reserves each year for three decades to grow fruit and vegetables in the desert, largely for export”.
The council has previously voiced concerns about the alleged lack of scientific data about groundwater availability in Central Australia, claiming the extraction of such a large amount of water could have long-term effects on traditional owners, animals and plants, who rely on groundwater for survival.
After the water extraction licence was granted earlier in the month, Mr Wood said the company planned to begin with the first stage of its development in mid 2022. However, the CLC has asked the government to place a halt “on all activity” until the appeal is decided.
The proposal still needs formal approval from the EPA.