Voice of Real Australia is a regular newsletter from ACM, which has more than 100 mastheads across Australia. Today's is written by ACM national agriculture writer Chris McLennan.
The Northern Territory Government was a bit late for the Melbourne Cup with its latest each-way bet.
Using some of the GST revenue which keep the Territory's economy afloat for a flutter on a horse race might not be such a bad idea.
But then the NT has a deserved reputation for backing the wrong horse.
For most people the Territory is simple crocodiles and mangoes, mostly out of sight and out of mind.
A little bit quirky, a touch cowboy and always boiling hot.
But the 250,000 or so folk who live up there, would much rather not be the nation's basket case.
Some readers may have heard mention of the efforts to extract gas from shale rock buried deep underground the outback at a place they will never visit called Beetaloo.
The Federal government has also backed this plan despite the fears of many about repeating the mistakes of the past and basing our energy needs on fossil fuels.
Both Liberal and Labor administrations have called it Australia's transition fuel - moving from coal-fire power to renewables.
One of the promises made to allow drilling to continue in the Beetaloo was to test the water resources the miners needed to frack their wells, or force the gas out of the rock.
They need lots of water for that.
Despite the fame of the barramundi fishing and the abundance of wet seasons, there is not a lot of surface water in the north, it is mostly hidden underground and much harder to measure.
As promised, the NT government has just made public the results of its investigation and what it plans to do with the treasure it discovered.
This plan applies to an area of about 155,000 square kilometres of the Territory including Daly Waters, Elliott and Newcastle Waters - more than double the size of Tasmania.
Home of the Beetaloo shale deposits.
The government's research into the key Cambrian Limestone Aquifer says it is the "most extensive groundwater resource in the Territory", storing 740 million megalitres of usable water.
A staggering amount.
The government says 210,000 megalitres of that ground water can be sustainably used each year and not harm that reserve.
Water for the Beetaloo miners has been capped at 10,000 megalitres per year.
But the plan's surprise is that it recommends allocating some of this precious water to agriculture - almost 150,000 megalitres each year.
This is the each-way bet.
Enough water to keep the gas dream alive but water for broadacre cropping as well.
Big cattle stations cover 85 per cent of this area under a lease deal, they don't own the land.
Plus, the NT is one of the only jurisdictions in Australia which does not charge users for water, it's free.
The government this year released an agribusiness strategy which sets a target of 100,000 hectares of broadacre cropping by 2030.
Cotton is today's best bet.
More than 8000ha of the NT was cropped for cotton last year after plantings began in 2019.
The first commercial cotton crops of around 200ha were grown in the 2018-19 season, with 800ha the following year and 4200ha in 2020-21.
That cotton growth is expected to accelerate with the opening of its first gin near Katherine.
At the moment almost all the Territory's cotton is grown using wet season rains and not irrigation.
Some pastoralists have made it very clear they want to try out irrigated cropping.
The name of the agricultural game is diversification of income if you can do it.
Cotton and cows, has a certain ring to it.
But not everyone agrees.
The NT's peak conservation body Environment Centre NT said the plan outlined the largest single water allocation in the NT's history.
Eighteen water experts from across Australia wrote to the NT Government last year worried about the granting of water licences.
Environment Centre executive director Kirsty Howey said the plan was a "terrible decision" which she also called "reckless and dangerous".
"Despite community and scientific outcry, the NT Government is forging ahead, intent on handing out free water to its mates in the fracking and cotton industries at a gobsmacking rate, sacrificing communities and our precious free-flowing rivers in the process."
The government's plan is available here.
There has long been a dream the Top End would be Australia's food bowl, proximity to Asian markets, all that reliable rain and just so much land.
It's never been that easy.
Ask the people who tried growing rice up there only to find magpie geese had an enormous taste for the stuff.
Good luck NT, everyone wants you to do well, honestly we do
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