Plant Industries projects update for 2022

Region: Greater Darwin, Katherine Region, Barkly Region, Central Australia | Topic: Horticulture
Feb 2022 | Muhammad Sohail Mazhar, Plant Industries Acting Director

The Department of Industry, Tourism and Trade’s Plant Industries group has four research, development and extension (RDE) teams supported by a dedicated administrative team.

The staff are working across:

  1. horticulture
  2. cropping
  3. forestry
  4. engagement and extension.


The Horticulture team has been leading and partnering in a number of externally funded projects. These include:

  • four AgriFutures Australia projects on strengthening the date palm, dragon fruit, jackfruit, and vanilla industries
  • work with the Cooperative Research Centre for Developing the Northern Australia (CRCNA) on a situational analysis of horticulture in the northern Australia, and establishing the next generation of jackfruit orchards
  • a collaboration with the Australian Government’s Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment on developing sustainable farming systems, and
  • projects with Hort Innovation on building best practice for mango industry, and developing multiscale monitoring tools for fruit quality and yield forecasting for Territory producers.

The Plant Industries group is carrying out research to explore the potential for new crops and varieties in the Northern Territory (NT), such as avocadoes, ginger, mangoes, and tomatoes. The work is spread across different regional areas to add cropping options to the Territory’s planting landscape. The department is working with a range of delivery partners on these projects, including the NT growers, industry bodies, interstate RDE organisations and universities, as well as other commodity specific supply chain stakeholders.

The team is equally engaged in exploring Aboriginal agribusiness development opportunities in the Territory. Related initiatives include:

  • establishing mango varietal evaluation trials at Ali Curung
  • enabling Aboriginal groups in Wadeye to develop native bush food cultivars with desirable characters for markets by utilising the genetic diversity present on their own homelands, and
  • establishing community gardens in East Arnhem and Katherine regions for the community members to ensure uninterrupted access to fresh and nutritious fruit and vegetables.

The Horticulture team is carrying out a number of additional RDE activities, including joint projects with PhD candidates and interstate universities. Under the current programs, PhD candidates at Central Queensland University and Edith Cowan University, Western Australia will conduct research on dragon fruit and jackfruit, respectively in the NT. Future opportunities for joint research are being explored with the University of Queensland and Melbourne University.

The Horticulture team is also contributing to international plant industries development. Currently, the department has a memorandum of understanding for RDE cooperation with University of Florida and University of Agriculture Faisalabad, and is also developing a multi-country project on areas of mutual RDE interests with Cambodia and the Philippines.

The team is increasingly engaging in future RDE projects focused on addressing climate smart farming, drought resilience, soil management, and improving supply chain efficiency, so stay subscribed to our newsletter to read more about these ongoing projects. Big data management and analysis to assist with forecasting crop behaviour, yield estimation, and postharvest quality prediction continue and will also see a positive impact on the Territory’s horticulture industries.


The Plant Industries group’s Cropping team is leading a project on exploring broadacre cropping opportunities for the NT growers and contributing in the ‘Grain and graze north’ and ‘Spicing up the north’ projects with CRCNA. Staff are also contributing to the CRC for Future Food Systems funded project which is exploring the opportunities of native rice production and marketing for NT Aboriginal communities.

The team has also been leading an AgriFutures Australia funded project on industrial hemp value chain development, participating in another AgriFutures Australia funded national Industrial Hemp Variety evaluation program, and investing internal resources into evaluating production potential of industrial hemp in the Top End.


There are three major projects being led by the Forestry team focused on Aboriginal forestry in northern Australia.

In the Tiwi Islands we are maximising northern tropical forestry. This work, funded by the CRCNA, is focused on improving second rotation options for the Tiwi plantation forestry industry and the development of a Northern Forestry Industry Growth model.

A Forest and Wood Products Australia funded project is looking at Indigenous commercial forestry opportunities in the East Arnhem region. As part of this project, the department’s Forestry team is looking at understanding the forest resource, developing sustainable and selective forest management practices, and creating employment and economic opportunities for Traditional Owners in the region.

The Forestry team is also working on an Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment funded project, safeguarding Indigenous-led forestry in northern Australia. The research is focused on building capacity of Traditional Owners in forest health surveillance and biosecurity to protect the Tiwi and East Arnhem Aboriginal forestry enterprises being explored through other projects. The Forestry team is partnering with Aboriginal community groups, Aboriginal development corporations, industry bodies, interstate RDE organizations and universities, and other supply chain stakeholders to deliver these projects over the next few years.

Engagement and extension

The Plant Industries group’s Engagement and Extension team is working closely with growers, industry bodies, research delivery partners, funding agencies, and other department staff to ensure efficient and timely communication of project outputs and results. This is to provide maximum benefits to stakeholders across the horticulture, cropping and forestry industries.

The new AgricultureNT Facebook group is just one of the ways our team is working to keep industry and our stakeholders engaged in the RDE developments. In 2022, there’s an increased focus on closer engagement with the NT growers for more frequent information exchange and relationship development. This is alongside establishing partnerships to find sustainable solutions for NT growers’ and supply chain stakeholders’ farming issues by looking at additional ways to use RDE funding.

The RDE outputs of recent and current projects, the direction taken by the NT plant-based industries stakeholders, and the increasing interest of investors in growing crops in the Territory will continue to directly contribute to economic, social and environmental sustainability in the region.

Group shot of the Plant Industries regional team

Caption: Meet the Plant Industries Regional team.

Left to Right - Dylan Williams (Technical Officer), Nick Hartley (Senior Technical Officer), Peter Shotton (Scientist), Cameron Crawford (Scientist), Abhishek Soni (Technical Officer), Alireza Houshmandfar (Cropping Group Leader), and Salman Quddus (Team Leader Horticulture - Katherine).

Plant Industries regional team members not present in this picture are Frank Lunguna (Technical Officer) and Glen Oliver (Technical Officer).

Group shot of the Plant Industries Darwin team

Caption: The Plant Industries staff based in Darwin.

Left to Right (Front row): Dakshina Yadav (Scientist), Saeedeh Taghadomi Saberi (Scientist), Chelsea Moore (Team Leader Horticulture - Darwin), Dallas Anson (Forestry Group Leader). (Second row): Alireza Houshmandfar (Cropping Group Leader), Michael Finey (Extension Officer), Alex Peachey (Extension Group Leader), Nick Hartley (Senior Technical Officer), Muhammad Sohail Mazhar (Horticulture Group Leader / Acting Director Plant Industries).

Other Plant Industries Darwin team members not present in the picture are Cliff Hansen (Executive Officer), Doriane Rout (Business Support Officer), Arthur Cameron (Senior Scientist), Constancio Aguipo Asis (Senior Scientist), Doris Marcsik (Scientist), Alan Niscioli (Senior Technical Officer), Chris Kuo (Senior Technical Officer), Peter Bergin (Technical Officer) and Adrian Donati (Technical Officer).

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