Billion dollar baby formula plant for Badgingarra


Photo by Pietro Naj-Oleari

Baby formula could be WA’s next big export. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Rhys Gardiner, Reporter

The Shire of Dandaragan in WA’s Mid-West may soon be home to a $1.2 billion dairy and baby formula manufacturing plant, creating 950 construction jobs.

The facility has been proposed by Chinese-backed organisation WA Dairy and Energy (WADE).

It’s planned to be located outside the town of Badgingarra, 60 kilometres inland from Jurien Bay.

The main product will be baby formula powder, exclusively for export to Asian markets.

WADE plans to produce and process milk from up to 24,000 cows by 2024, creating 30,000 tonnes of baby formula per annum.

In order to draw up the large amounts of groundwater required for such an operation, CEO Ian Thubron told the ABC that waste from the cows would be used to provide energy.

Dandaragan Shire president Leslee Holmes said the council was “amazed” at the confirmation of the plans on Monday.

She said other departments had been “working with the proponents for some time,” the project being in the works for “about six years.”

Mrs Holmes said the 480 ongoing jobs would include roles for geneticists and in animal husbandry.

While the management may partially be from Perth, the operation is backed by Chinese-based firm Tsing Capital, however Holmes wants local jobs to be a priority.

“Our conditions would be to them that we would like as many local people [as possible] working and educated in the ability to do these jobs […] they have assured us that they will be investing heavily in employing the local population,” she said.

Steve Hossen, a dairy industry consultant, said the WADE plant as envisioned, would be the biggest non-mining employer within 100 kilometres. But he said there are still “many hurdles” to overcome before the project can go ahead.

WADE has obtained a licence from the State Government to drill for water on the proposed site.

The Yarragadee sub-aquifer provides abundant groundwater, but is deep below the surface – and this is why the plant will provide its own power to get the job done.

“If they had to pump that up using electricity, they couldn’t afford to run the project,” Mrs Holmes said.

“So the waste products from the cows will actually be made into energy, and that will run the pumps to bring up the water.”

With a projected 10 gigalitres of water required, the project must also await full state government approval once feasibility studies are completed.

“We have to trust that our state government are doing the right thing, and that’s why things take time,” Mrs Holmes said.

“Water, I think, is going to be the most important commodity going into our future, and they obviously are being really careful and cautious, which we hope they always will be, around water.”