CRC Irrigation Futures

Water Use on Australian Farms 2002-03

Water Use on Australian Farms 2002-03 (ABS catalogue no. 4618.0) was released recently by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The report highlights that the most extensively irrigated crop in Australia in 2002-03 was grass. In a period which saw the peak of a severe drought affecting most of Australia, pasture for grazing used 27% of the total volume of irrigation water and amounted to 30% of the total area irrigated nationally. It is important to ask why is this so – given the opportunity to trade water to other commodities or use on other crops. Wayne Meyer in a soon to be released study on Irrigation in the Murray will be exploring these realities in some detail

The thirstiest crop was rice, with an application rate of 14.1 ML/ha, more than three times the national average rate across all crops and pasture (4.4ML/ha). Cotton had the next highest irrigation water use at 6.5ML/ha (note, 1ML/ha means 10cm deep). As all of us know within the CRC IF these numbers do not in themselves demonstrate the “efficiency” or otherwise of any particular crop and as such should be viewed with reference to crop demand and application system efficiencies in particular regions. As an industry we need to improve our capacity to communicate these factors in a simple and transparent fashion.

Western Australia reported the highest average application rate (6.5ML/ha) and Tasmania the lowest (2.4ML/ha). New South Wales was the largest irrigating state or territory, applying 4,273GL (41% of the Australian total volume), followed by Victoria (24%) and Queensland (21%).

In total during 2002-03, 43,774 farms irrigated, which was nearly a third (33%) of agricultural establishments in Australia. The most common source of irrigation water nationally was surface water, such as rivers and dams – reported by 72% of irrigating establishments. Recycled or re-used water from off-farm sources was reported by 2.4% of irrigating establishments. Surface irrigation, such as flood irrigation, was the prevalent irrigation method nationally and used on 1,344,000ha, or 57% of the area irrigated. As with all ABS statistics it is important to delve into the detail and this particular figure in itself deserves significant investigation – comments perhaps from the team???

24 Jun 2005




From the CEO's desk - December


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