Irrigation statistics challenge cliches

The ABS says the largest decline in irrigation water use was for rice, with volumes down more than 81pc, followed by cotton (down by 50pc) and pasture for grazing (down by 30pc) – the three industries most often blamed for the Murray Darling water shortage.

However, the major use of irrigation water in 2006-07 was for pasture for dairy cattle, which accounted for 15pc or 1163GL of all irrigation water use.

With a decline of more than 42pc since 2005/06, New South Wales reported the largest decrease in water for irrigation.

In contrast water use for irrigation in Tasmania increased by 29pc, and by 8pc in South Australia, most of this increase being for pasture for grazing.

Other findings from the ABS report include:

* approximately 40pc of farms and 41pc of irrigating farms in Australia were located in the Murray-Darling Basin;

* irrigation in the Murray-Darling Basin accounted for 58pc of water used for irrigation nationally;

* irrigation water used in the Murray-Darling Basin decreased by 40pc from 7370GL in 2005-06 to 4458GL gigalitres in 2006-07;

* the major use of this water was for irrigation of pastures for grazing (1093GL) and irrigation of cotton (819GL);

* government or private irrigation schemes supplied over 38pc of all water used on farms, followed by groundwater and other surface water.

* the volume of groundwater used by farms increased by nearly 15pc, while volumes from all other sources decreased;

* farmers purchased 655GL of extra water on a temporary basis at a cost of $122 million, and 74GL on a permanent basis at a cost of $93m; and

* the value of irrigation equipment and infrastructure on farms at 30 June 2007 was $9.3 billion.

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