Andrew 'Twiggy' Forrest expands into horticulture with view to export
The man known for making his fortune in Western Australia through iron ore, Andrew 'Twiggy' Forrest, has turned his attention to fruit and vegetables.
He has announced plans to use centre-pivot irrigation to grow melons, sweet potatoes, potatoes, and onions on land where he grew up, at Minderoo Station, about 40 kilometres south of Onslow in the Pilbara region.
Minderoo Group's head of investment, John Hartman, said while the region was better known for its iron ore and cattle, the Group was positive fruit and vegetables could also be grown successfully.
"[It] isn't necessarily that it's not possible; I guess it's that someone hasn't come around to giving it a crack yet," Mr Hartman said.
Minderoo Station currently produces about 120 hectares of Rhodes grass for cattle fodder using centre-pivot irrigation, and is planning to almost double the irrigation, with an additional 100 hectares of land set aside for horticulture.
Andrew 'Twiggy' Forrest has expanded into cattle, fodder, and vegetable production. (ABC Rural: Robert Koenigluck)
Mr Hartman said there was potential to be producing more than $100 million worth of fruit and vegetables annually.
"We need to find the markets. We have had strong interest from both the domestic and export markets in what we're able to grow, and when we're able to grow it," he said.
"We've certainly got the water to be able to irrigate up to 1,000 hectares at Minderoo, we've got the soils.
"[We] never want to get hung-up on big numbers but certainly, the potential is there at Minderoo to create something truly special for WA."
As Minderoo Station is already running as a cattle station, Mr Hartman said the team was able to "hit the ground running" on the project, and achieve a strong financial return in both local and export markets.
"Our main focus, when we started this project, was to look at some of the opportunities for import replacement, and having a freight advantage over some of the eastern states' competitors," he said.
"There's also some quality concern from some of the big, domestic customers regarding those eastern states' products, and we're also focused on higher value export markets as well."
Minderoo Station lies on the Ashburton River, near the Pilbara town of Onslow
Despite challenges with the warm climate and vast distances to travel deterring others, Mr Hartman believed those factors would work in Minderoo's favour.
"Onslow is comparably warmer in the summer and winter months compared with other growing regions, such as Carnarvon," he said.
"And the warmer winters in Onslow on Minderoo Station provide an advantage for many of the vegetable crops.
"One of the advantages that our site at Minderoo does have is from a biosecurity point of view — the isolation.
"We are a fair way from our next closest growers and obviously, will be the only grower in the area, so we really see biosecurity as a strength of the project."
Mr Hartman said Minderoo Station planned to begin the expansion into horticulture "imminently", and hoped to be sending produce to market by mid-2018.
Source: ABC Rural By Michelle Stanley