THE impending appointment of a Northern Territory Farmers Association development officer based in Katherine looks set to reinvigorate the agricultural sector in the region over the coming years.
After securing funding from the Northern Territory Government for the position, NT Farmers president Simon Smith told the Rural Weekly the officer would be tasked with driving growth and innovation primarily in the Katherine and Douglas Daly regions.
"Initially the officer will be reaching out to growers so that we are able to get a better understanding of what their needs are,” Mr Smith said.
"If there are gaps in areas such as research or skills, we need to know.
"But down the track we see the position as being involved in what you would call "blue- sky thinking”.
"Ideally we would like to see them come up with three or four new $5or$10million crops in Katherine that could either be taken on by existing growers to diversify into or perhaps even bring new growers in.
"Those crops could be hemp or asparagus ... there is a range of possibilities there and we think driving innovation will be a big part of the role. That could also include looking at innovative production systems or on-farm water storage and more sustainable and profitable farming practices overall.
"It's important that there is the right person to support the innovators and entrepreneurs in agriculture.”
Mr Smith said NT Farmers' goals for the position were in line with the NT Government's agenda for the Big Rivers region.
"The Government is looking to make the Katherine region an agri-business hub and that makes good sense,” he said
To ensure the association is well positioned to contribute and capitalise on that agenda, two new board members recently joined the organisation at the annual general meeting late last month.
"There is actually a significant change to the board for the coming year in that we have added Andrew Dalglish from Katherine and Bret Gill representing Douglas Daly,” Mr Smith said.
"They have come on board along with mango grower Tou Ruchkaew from Acacia.
"The focus was very much on getting representatives from Katherine and the Douglas Daly region on board and we have two very good members, which is pleasing.
"Tom Harris has departed however, and his contribution over many years will be missed. But, he is still about and will be there if we need him.”
Mr Smith said hay grower Brett Gill represented a first for the association.
"Having a hay producer on the board hasn't happened before and it represents a significant part of things moving forward, particularly when you are looking for diversification on pastoral properties.
"There are a lot of synergies there for us with the cattle industry and it is an area where we plan to place a lot more focus,” Mr Smith said.
Mr Smith said the association would also be looking to continue its strong advocacy work in the coming year.
He said it would be pushing to cut red-tape around the Seasonal Workers Program so it could benefit all farmers who wanted to utilise the scheme.
"People who are utilising the program speak very highly of it, but others have told us that the bureaucracy to take advantage of it is pretty difficult to navigate,” he said.
"For melon growers it's been described as death by red tape. So, we will be working to simplify the process.
"It's not that we will be looking for a "free kick” for farmers, we want growers to still respect the legal process, but often the same questions are asked a number of times by different departments.”
With the addition of the development officer, and new board members Mr Smith said he was looking forward to the year ahead.
"It's an exciting time for NT Farmers, the board is excited by the increased capacity and we are very grateful that the NT Government has given us the opportunity to further support farmers and I think they can expect great things from the plant industries in the NT for the next five to 10 years.”
The new NT Farmers Association board of directors is Simon Smith (president), Paul McLaughlin (vice-president), Kate Peake (treasurer), Leo Skliros, Wayne Quach, Martina Matzner, Ruth Cormack, Vin Lange, Han Siah, Brett Gill, Andrew Dalglish and Tou Ruchkaew.