In terms of agricultural production, the Pilbara is characterised by its large area and long distance from markets, a very high degree of solar radiation, low average rainfall, a very high incidence of cyclones and associated wet seasons, and highly variable rainfall.
Consequently, extensive pastoralism has been the dominant agricultural industry in this region since European settlement in the late nineteenth century. While there are anecdotes of pastoralists irrigating pasture to provide supplementary fodder to livestock or working animals, this was confined to very small areas with basic infrastructure.
There are currently 2550 hectares under irrigation in the Pilbara at seven irrigation sites.
The first large scale irrigation development in the Pilbara was at Minderoo Station in the late 2000s. Other pastoral companies have since commissioned irrigation sites on Pardoo and Wallal Downs Stations. Warrawagine Station commissioned irrigators adjacent to the Woodie Woodie pilot site developed by the PHADI project. Rio Tinto developed Hamersley and Nammuldi agricultural projects on Hamersley Station to manage mine dewater surplus.
To date, irrigation activities in the Pilbara have focused on production of fodder for pastoral enterprises.