Flexible and agile support for diverse development pathways
Northern Australia is not homogenous in either its opportunities or its risks. These vary greatly by location and investor profile, with multiple pathways to success and failure, meaning that there is no single scalable recipe for how government can support development.
Pathways to successfully establish or expand agricultural businesses in Northern Australia are likely to differ widely depending on where an investor's expertise and interests lie, and the types of resources they can initially access (land, water, capital and infrastructure). This can lead to differences in the type of opportunity that initially motivates an investor, whether this be a new market, a new or improved farming approach, or some competitive advantage. Likewise, risks are likely to differ depending on where an investor has less experience or access to the resources required to build their business.
- An international investor who is interested in a promising new market may be unfamiliar with Australian laws and regulations and northern farming conditions and businesses.
- An investor familiar with growing a crop in Southern Australia may need assistance in the substantial challenges of adapting those production systems to tropical environments.
- Someone who identifies a competitive advantage of growing a new crop in Northern Australia may face challenges in establishing a market for their product (particularly if the market is in another country) and understanding possible constraints in the supply chain (transport, processing, storage and market requirements).
- Some opportunities develop from close ties between government and industry, with clear networks through which government initiatives can deliver support, whereas others develop ‘under the radar’ with much less visibility to government.
Recent successes in the north have followed varied pathways, with some opportunities having benefited from strong input from government, while others have arisen independent of government research and extension. In the Darwin region, the Asian vegetable industry established and grew with little assistance or initial visibility to government. Clearly, it is hard for government to ‘pick winners’.
Since risks and opportunities are so diverse, there is unlikely to be a single recipe that can be widely applied across the north. Rather, a more agile government approach is likely to be required, such as a support network that is adaptive enough to identify and provide assistance to investors where there need is greatest, and government has the expertise to assist.