The issue of irrigation could make or break plans to for Australia to become the food bowl for Asia.

New water licences are being released in the Flinders River Basin, a massive catchment covering 1.5 per cent of Australia in Queensland's Gulf Country.

Rivers run full in the area during the seasonal Big Wet, and Chinese companies are already thinking about investing in new agriculture projects in the region.

At the other end of the eastern seaboard, in Tasmania, there are plans to use existing hydro-electricity infrastrucure to convert once-marginal land into lush dairy pasture.

But with the optimism comes a warning that meddling with the environment could have unexpected consequences.

AM has been on the road to talk to farmer and scientists about Australia's new immigration boom.

Gulf Country

Corbett Tritton, a cattle farmer in northern Queensland, feels confident he and his neighbours can turn grazing land into rich cropland as a result of being granted permission to store water.

"We've grown pulse crops here, we've grown sorghum, we've grown cereals and we've grown cotton all successfully. And as an industry develops they'll get better at doing those things. Yeah we're very much pioneers."

His success caught the attention of other graziers in the Southern Gulf who realised the potential and are eager to try it themselves.

But graziers say the 80,000 megalitres being released by the Queensland Government is about one-third of what's needed.

David Farley is the CEO of Australia's largest agricultural company AACO.

"I would encourage the minister to operate at the speed of lightning to release more water, and especially if they would be keen to see the development start within their tenure and term of government."

Tasmania

Most people do not associate the island state with droughts, but there have been successive dry years for Tasmanian farmers.

While the west coast is one of the wettest places on earth, Hobart receives just over 600 millimetres a year, or about half of what Sydney gets.

What rain does fall does not always end up where it is needed - on the dry paddocks in the midlands.

In a bold move the state's hydro electricity scheme water is being turned around to feed some of Tasmania's dry heart.

Richard Gardener has been farming near Tunbridge for almost two decades, and the new pipeline is being driven across his property.

"There's a lot of opportunity for dairy in Tasmania ... the industry is looking at trying to expand as much as possible to fill the processing capacity.

And I think Tasmania along with New Zealand's one of the best places in the world to produce milk."

Words of caution

Daryl Hoey is a fourth generation dairy farmer who moved to the Goulburn Valley area of Victoria after his father's ranch in Queensland struggled.

He is not shy of change, but he has got some words of warning to those keen to rush to the new water licences areas in the north.

"You've got to realise that if you're going to open up an area like that that hasn't been exposed to irrigation in the past, there'll be diseases, there'll be pests, there'll be animals and birds that you've never had before that will certainly come in that will change the whole environmental landscape of the area.

"So there will be some successes but I guarantee there'll be many failures along the way as well."

Dr Bill Young from the CSIRO is one of Australia's top experts on water:

"Oh I think absolutely in the north, you'd have to say that if you look forward 100, 150 years, I'm sure water resources and irrigation will have a future in the north.

I think the question is how fast we do that, and you know, if we do that in a measured and sensible way and an evidenced based way, then that will be a good thing for the country.

"If we rush into and do it in a blinkered way, it's likely to have very unhappy outcomes."

 

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