THE WESTERN Australian government has granted a development lease for the Knox farmlands near Kununurra in the state’s far north it says will pave the way for the expansion of a sustainable cotton industry.

The 5400-hectare lease agreement, granted to Kimberley Agricultural Investment Pty Ltd (KAI), marks another step forward since the original 2014 Ord Development Agreement to cultivate fertile land for agricultural production.

KAI is partnering with Keep Farming Pty Ltd to develop the Knox farmland, which is set to play an important role in building scale for cotton production and processing in the region, the government says. The development has been backed by local growers and Traditional Owners, with construction underway of Kimberley Cotton Company’s cotton gin in Kununurra.

KCC was formed in April 2021 as a partnership between the Ord River District Cooperative (ORDCO), KAI, and Miriuwung Gajerrong (MG) Corporation. The company was established to lead the construction and operation of a Kununurra cotton processing facility (gin) that is crucial to make cotton an economically feasible broadacre crop into the future.

In late 2022, the government allocated $77.1 million for vital water infrastructure upgrades in the Ord, to support required water volumes to Knox and drive agricultural expansion in the area. This was additional to government investment of close to $4 million to install electricity supply infrastructure to provide clean, renewable power to the cotton gin, construction of which began last year for expected production in 2025.

Furthermore, the successful shareholder capital raising efforts by KCC and the execution of a $32 million loan from the Commonwealth Government’s Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) have been instrumental in making the construction of the $60 million gin possible. 

KCC says currently, cotton grown in northern WA faces a considerable hurdle. It must be transported over 3500 kilometres to the processing facility, incurring high costs ranging from $100 to $200 per bale. However, the Kununurra Cotton Gin aims to eliminate this challenge by bringing the processing facility closer to the source of production. This strategic move not only reduces costs but also streamlines the cotton production process.

The prospect of significant cotton exports – estimated at 100,000-150,000 bales per annum – has shipping lines and the port of Darwin rubbing their hands in anticipation, although sources indicate transport and port storage arrangements have yet to be made.

WA’s Regional Development Minister Don Punch said the Knox agreement was a “tremendous milestone in the development of the Ord River Irrigation Area, paving the way for a vibrant cotton industry in our state’s north.

“Widening of the Main Water Supply (M1) Channel is also underway to support water supply requirements to the area from Lake Argyle,” Mr Punch said.

“Our government has walked alongside industry for many years to help establish a new era of cotton production, diversifying the local economy and creating new job opportunities for the East Kimberley.”