Scientists say giant dams could turn north Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory into even greater agricultural food bowls.

The CSIRO has 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 — and found almost 400,000 hectares across the catchments that could be suitable for irrigated agriculture.

The report does not formally propose specific dams, but rather seeks to show generally what is possible in terms of water supplies and suitable land.

Federal Resources Minister Senator Matthew Canavan said a system of new dams would significantly increase Australia's food production.

“Right now we irrigate just over two million hectares in the whole country,” Senator Canavan said.

“In the Murray-Darling Basin it is about 1.5 million hectares, so 400,000 hectares is really a lot to irrigate into farm production.

“It's only a small part in single digits of percentages of the area of these catchments.

“But in terms of being able to boost our farm production as a nation, boost our food production, [and] if you take the potential of growing Asian economies, it's a big deal for the country.”

Senator Canavan said plans would take decades to implement.

“We've always said our northern Australian agenda was not something for an electoral cycle, it's not something for us to deliver in just three years … it was something to set the country up, set the north up for decades,” he said.

“Investing in dams is one of the key ways we can make our country more resilient from drought.

“In the Mitchell River, the consensus view is that there won't be much change to rainfall patterns due to climate change.”

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