Red-taped asparagus project delays continue

Glenn CordingleyBroome Advertiser
Broome farmer Russell “Rusty” Dredge was announced as the successful candidate for the horticulture project one year ago
Camera IconBroome farmer Russell “Rusty” Dredge was announced as the successful candidate for the horticulture project one year ago Credit: Glenn Cordingley

A massive horticulture project in the Kimberley lies dormant, one year after the former State Government released the 682ha of land as part of its $40 million water for food program.

On June 10 last year, Kimberley Asparagus — an alliance between pumpkin and melon farmer Russell “Rusty” Dredge and the WA Fresh Produce Group — was unveiled as the successful candidate for the Skuthorpe horticultural area, 23km east of Broome.

At the time, former lands minister Terry Redman said Kimberley Asparagus had been chosen because of its vision for expanding regional horticultural opportunities by supplying domestic and international markets with quality produce.

He said the prospective economic benefits for WA and the Kimberley were significant.

The operation this year was expected to create up to 55 jobs, with the first asparagus harvest due around November/December.

But not one seedling has been planted because the Department of Environment Regulation has still not issued land-clearing permits.

It means Mr Dredge has missed the entire 2017 season, with machinery sitting in sheds at a time when mass planting was due to be carried out following a successful growth trial last year.

“The ideal planting window for 2017 is right now as asparagus takes a year to grow,” he said.

“We should have truckloads of seedlings turning up with 50 people out there plugging asparagus into the ground, but there is not because of bureaucracy.

“The reality is the jobs and buildings and packing sheds are another year behind now because nothing is happening in terms of the required permits.”

When contacted by the Broome Advertiser, a Department of Environment Regulation spokeswoman said it was aiming to provide Kimberley Asparagus with its assessment within a week.

“It is acknowledged that there have been delays in assessing this complex application to clear 678ha of native vegetation, which required advice from multiple State and local government agencies,” she said. Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan was not impressed by the delay.

“This is work that should have been done by the former government before this land was put out to tender — it would be like selling land to build apartments that was zoned for parks and wildlife,” she said.

“We are committed to horticulture in the West Kimberley but it appears this land release was rushed. We completely understand the frustration of the grower, who has been put in a terrible position. We’ve been talking to the environment minister about how best we can ensure these approvals are granted in a more timely manner.”

Mr Dredge has for several years been supplying major supermarkets with carving pumpkins grown for Halloween from Ginmore Farm, near Broome.

He said growing would initially target a period when national supplies of the vegetable were sourced overseas.

“We are aiming to replace the reliance on imported product during those three months,” he said. “Most of our produce will be consumed in Australia.”

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