Northern Territory beef producers are seeking out new irrigated crops options in a bid to diversify their operations.
Pastoral legislation changes currently before the Northern Territory Parliament could see graziers granted 30-year permits to develop alternative business activities on station land.
Melissa Fraser, from the NT Department of Primary Industry, says that has many pastoralists looking to large-scale irrigated cropping as a new income source.
"At the moment we are limited with our dry season irrigated crop options, both legumes and grasses," she said.
"So there has been a push recently, from industry, for us to be investigating some of those new grass and legume options.
"Especially with the possible change in pastoral legislation, and a change in economics, which will make it viable for some industry members to invest in irrigation infrastructure."
Mrs Fraser says seven varieties of lucerne, a common fodder crop, have been planted in a six-hectare trial plot at the Katherine Research Station, in a bid to find a commercially viable option for the industry.
"Lucerne is a really popular crop with our consumers, both domestically and internationally, but we haven't been successful in finding a variety that can withstand our wet season," she said.
"There has been some work done in recent years over at Kununurra, looking at some new lucerne varieties, and they have been successful in selecting some lines there.
"We are trialling them at the research station this year, and we're comparing them to some other commercial lines that are currently available."
Irrigators are already moving swiftly to secure , with four recent licence applications seeking 15.7 billion litres from the Ooloo aquifer alone.
Mrs Fraser says in time, irrigated cropping could be a huge industry across the Top End.
"The potential for irrigated agriculture in the Northern Territory is quite large," she said.
"We now know that water is available in the Katherine region, and especially in the Douglas-Daly, and down around Mataranka as well.
"At the moment, that water is not being utilised, so really it comes back to looking at our soils and our water, and where we can grow our crops.
"So the total area, I would say, would be in the tens of thousands of hectares, but it is going to be a slow process to find the crops and find the markets to make that happen."