Cattle farmers say northern Queensland could be ‘food bowl to Asia’ after historic crop harvest


The Gulf of Carpentaria is known as cattle country. But with the threat of foot-and-mouth disease on Australia’s doorstep, graziers have been forced to diversify their operations.

As livestock farmers begin to branch out, local leaders, including beef producer and Burke Shire Mayor Ernie Camp, say the gulf could soon cement itself as the “food bowl to Asia”.

Mr Camp is this month celebrating a historic harvest of the first crop of sorghum in the region.

The veteran grazier and his family manage roughly 8,500 head of cattle across the 94,000-hectare Floraville Station in the remote community of Burketown in Queensland’s Gulf of Carpentaria.

For the first time in the region’s history, Mr Camp has harvested 2,500 hectares of top-grade sorghum — a drought-resistant grain commonly used in cereal, livestock feed, alcohol, and biofuel.

Australia is one of the biggest exporters of sorghum, which is primarily produced in the country’s northern cropping belt in the east.

After harvesting a first-rate product, Mr Camp said there was a bright future for farming the grain in northern Queensland.

Bolstering northern agriculture and meeting global demand

Grazier Ernie Camp says his sorghum crop is first rate.(Supplied: Ernie Camp)

Mr Camp said the growth of a sorghum industry in the north would help bolster farmers against threats of disease and meet international demand for the grain.

“We can’t put all our eggs in one basket,” he said.

“We need agricultural variety in our predominantly cattle areas so that we can diversify in case exotic diseases like FMD reach our shores.

“The gulf region has been identified as a food bowl to Asia.

“One thing that is guaranteed is that the world population is continuing to grow, and we’re running out of land, so we need to open up these areas of agriculture to feed this growing world population.”

A map of where sorghum is usually grown in Australia.
Sorghum is primarily produced in the cropping belt of central Queensland and northern NSW.(Supplied: USDA)

Challenges of remote farming

While Mr Camp called his first season a success, he said the isolation of his property posed big challenges.

“The area is quite remote and getting products in here to seed the crop and even machinery is quite difficult,” he said.

“It’s the tyranny of distance.”

Despite some trial and error, Mr Camp said the soil conditions made for a quality product.

“The bird life has certainly had a lot of enjoyment feeding on the sorghum but regardless of what tonnage we may or may not have got, it has proven that the soil can grow sorghum, the soil can retain moisture,” he said.

“It is very exciting.”

Opportunities in biofuel and jobs: Katter

Member for Traeger and Katter’s Australian Party leader Robbie Katter said an increase in domestic sorghum production would allow for a national focus on biofuels.

An orange coloured grain crop field
The sorghum crop at Floraville Station.(Supplied: Ernie Camp)

The high sugar content of sorghum is used to make ethanol, which is considered a more environmentally friendly alternative to petrol.

“The nation’s fuel security is in increasing danger, and with skyrocketing fuel and fertiliser costs, pressure is mounting on government to develop Australia’s biofuels capacity,” Mr Katter said.

He said farming the grain also required more workers.

“This kind of farming requires an extra 10 times the workforce to keep the property running, meaning bringing in more families with more job opportunities, and returning more profit to the community,” Mr Katter said.

Mr Camp said another sorghum crop would be on its way as he also investigated other operations.

“I will certainly continue with sorghum and try other things like beans, perhaps. I’m just really pleased that we’ve proven it can be done,” he said.

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