The first commercial milling of sugar cane grown on the Ord River irrigation area is now underway.
Speaking at the official opening this week, Agriculture Minister Ernie Bridge said the purchase and now operation of a micro sugar mill by local farmers marked a significant advance in plans to develop a sugar industry on the Ord.
The micro mill - which has a crushing capacity of 80 tonnes of cane a day - is the prototype of a much larger mill proposed for the Ord, and will provide a valuable working model of sugar processing.
Owned by the Ord River District Co-operative, the micro mill will be used to produce a sugar syrup for industrial purposes.
Mr Bridge said the commencement of commercial milling was the latest step in an ongoing co-operative effort by the State Government and local industry to establish a major sugar industry.
He said the Department of Agriculture had spent almost three years building up 36 hectares of cane to provide crucial planting stock for local farmers.
The Department's work enabled farmers to plant a nine hectare block last year to provide the initial start-up feed stock for the micro mill, with a further 42 hectares planted this year and another 15 hectares due to be planted next week.
In a further co-operative effort, the Department of Agriculture had loaned specialised sugar cane planting and harvesting equipment to the local industry, which was being maintained and operated by the farmers as they planted the 1992 crop and harvested the initial feed stock for the micro mill.
Mr Bridge said the Ord River District Co-operative was now looking ahead at the possibility of a much larger mill with a crushing capacity of 2,000 tonnes a day.
Significant interest had been shown by both Australian and overseas companies in its supply and construction, and the co-operative was now preparing a detailed business plan for the establishment of a sugar industry utilising approximately 3,500 hectares of the existing irrigation area.
"That forward planning and initiative is typical of the Ord growers who have consistently shown vision and fortitude in their efforts to develop the Ord irrigation area," Mr Bridge said.
"The small industry presently being developed will complement and act as a catalyst for the later extensive development of new irrigation areas for sugar production."