Giant dams could be built in parts of north Queensland and the Northern Territory to turn those areas into major national agricultural food bowls and generate significant economic benefits, a CSIRO report says.
The Federal Government welcomed the report, saying the dams could revolutionise food production and help drought-proof rural areas.
The CSIRO's "world-leading initiative" mapped three key river systems — the Mitchell River in far north Queensland, Western Australia's Fitzroy River and the Greater Darwin area in the Northern Territory — to identify the best sites for potential irrigated agricultural development.
The CSIRO report suggested several dams could be built in Queensland and the Northern Territory and said there were good conditions in Western Australia for irrigated agriculture through harvesting aquifers.
The assessment of Western Australia's Fitzroy River did not undertake any new analysis of any new dam designs, nor was the potential for major dams to mitigate flooding along the river investigated.
CSIRO project leader Chris Chilcott said almost 400,000 hectares across the catchments could be suitable for irrigated agriculture.
"It's about the possible, so we're not proposing those dams," he said.
"What the report does — and what the work for us has done — is it shows what's possible, how much land, how much water, and where do they come together that would allow developments to happen.
"And then it allows people to make decisions about how they might do that.