Growers, the local Kununurra community and the Western Australian government celebrated 75 years of agricultural research and endeavour from the Frank Wise Institute of Tropical Agriculture last week.
“The Frank Wise Institute of Tropical Agriculture and its staff have achieved so much over more than seven decades, underpinning the transformation of this outback region into a valuable northern foodbowl,” WA Agriculture and Food minister Alannah MacTiernan said.
Descendants of those who helped establish the research centre – including former premier Frank Wise and the Durack family – and current farmers and civic leaders paid testimony to the vision and fortitude of those who helped realise the potential in the East Kimberley.
The Kimberley Research Station was originally established as a joint state and Commonwealth initiative in 1946, staffed by the CSIRO and the WA Department of Agriculture.
In 1986 the CSIRO sold its share of the research facility to the WA Department of Agriculture, who renamed the facility as the Frank Wise Institute of Tropical Agriculture. The former premier was instrumental in driving horticultural development in northern Western Australia.
“Frank Wise was a passionate advocate of northern agriculture, as a field officer with the Department of Agriculture, as well as a special commissioner to the North Australia Commission,” MacTiernan said.
“He drove development of northern horticulture as Minister for Agriculture from 1935 to 1945, and then premier of WA from 1945 to 1947.”
The Department has continued research that laid the foundations for the development and expansion of the Ord River Irrigation Area, which now spans 15,500 hectares.
Over the past 75 years, the Frank Wise Institute of Tropical Agriculture has led research into sugar cane, cotton, rice, sorghum, maize, winter cereals, safflower, linseed, peanuts, lemongrass, kenaf and other fibre crops.
In an average year, the area produces more than 33,500 tonnes of fruit and vegetables, including mangoes, bananas, grapefruit, lime, melons, pumpkins and beans, valued at almost $58.9 million annually.
Over the past four years, the Western Australian government has revitalised the Frank Wise Institute of Tropical Agriculture, with more than 20 project collaborations underway including hemp, quinoa, plantago, mangoes, safflower, cassava and cotton.
“The McGowan government is committed to continuing Frank Wise’s legacy and has made significant investments to revitalise the Institute, with improvements to infrastructure, specialist staff appointments and securing new research partnerships,” MacTiernan said.
“The department continues to work closely with growers and industry stakeholders, local Aboriginal people and the global scientific community on research that generates advancements and benefits to the region and beyond.
“As science and new technologies evolve, so too do opportunities for sustainable, profitable agricultural development in the north, in harmony with the Kimberley’s natural assets,” she said.
“Today is a celebration of the Kings in Grass Castles and the succession of researchers over the years, who have left an indelible mark on this industry and its contribution to the state economy.”