Hinchinbrook is on the lookout for new crops to rotate with its mainstay, sugar cane.
The local council is collaborating with the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, Herbert River Productivity Board and Terrain, to see what can be grown in combination with cane.
Mayor Ramon Jayo said the council set aside $30,000 for research and development, and would contribute more funding if the work was successful in identifiying new crops for the region.
“We are looking at what other potential crops could be grown in our valley and in combination with sugar cane so we can have a rotational system happening,” Cr Jayo said.
“I’m keen for that because of two things – sugar cane is very volatile on the world market, if we can have an alternative industry happening there is money in the pocket for the farmers.
“Soil health is always an issue. Studies and trials at the moment are showing that if we do alternate our crop cycles every four to five years we are getting better yields.
“We are breaking that mono culture and getting better yields which means there’s more money to our farmers and flowing into our district.”
While trials are underway with rice and beans including mung beans and taro beans, Cr Jayo said the region’s volatile weather had inhibited the development of alternative crops in the past.
“We have constraints – we don’t have any underground water to supplement irrigate so we are reliant on rainfall, however, the rainfall is not as reliable as we would like,” Cr Jayo said.
“Then there’s the volatility of our weather, we could have 6 to 12 inches of rain overnight.
“There has been advances in technology, and now we have mound planting and GPS planting that may be able to go towards establishing alternative crops.”
Cr Jayo said establishing alternative crops in the region – to complement sugar – would create new industries and jobs.
“In five years time I would like to see different crops in combination with sugar, as a rotation,” Cr Jayo said.
“We maintain sugar industry as our prime industry but also have secondary industries which we can rely in times when sugar is not doing well.”
He conceded agricultural diversification would require a shift in culture.
“We grow sugar and we grow sugar only,” Cr Jayo said.
“Sugar has been a sugar daddy for the district but we need to get growers thinking about growing other crops. I’m glad my council is fully supportive because they see the need to diversify is real.
“Our economy is not growing at the moment, its actually declining by 0.2 per cent per annum.
“We really need to look at the alternative if we want out economy to grow.”