Chinese trial alcohol crop in the Kimberley

ABC Rural

By Tyne McConnon

In WA’s Ord Valley sweet sorghum is being trialled by the Chinese company developing Ord stage 2, Kimberley Agricultural Investment.

The trial, covering less than a hectare, is being run by the local Department of Agriculture and Food. However, it’s being paid for by KAI.

KAI are considering growing the crop, which is commonly used in alcohol in Asia, on the 13,400 hectares of land they developing.

KAI was chosen as the preferred proponent to develop a sugar industry in the Valley.

However, the company says it could take over 10 years before sugar is grown and therefore they need other crops in the short term.

Seed sorghum is already grown successfully in the Ord. Sweet sorghum, which will be grown for its sugar content, is still largely unexplored.

The department’s Mark Warmington says the crop has produced various results over the last year.

"We found the winter plantings are a little bit slower and they aren’t giving us the high yield that we are chasing.

"But certainly the planting in November and growing over the wet season is producing quite a productive crop."

KAI has made its intentions clear in the past about growing cover crops. However, this is the first time its intentions for sweet sorghum have been heard.

KAI’s Jim Engelke says the crop, if successful, would be destined for the alcohol market in Asia.

"Sweet sorghum is the base for baijiu. Baijiu is the distilled drink that’s drunk a lot through South-East Asia.

"We are looking at, or assessing, the viability of growing sweet sorghum."

Mr Engelke says if the crop was successful, a local processing plant would be needed.

"We are certainly making preliminary investigations on how we may process sweet sorghum.

"At this stage we are still waiting or assessing the viability of growing it."