Water efficiency enables irrigation farmers to stay productive

When you think about irrigation, the first thing that comes to mind, is probably not “water efficiency”. After all, the farmer is using more water, right?

However, that is not the case when you are as efficient in managing water as our Australian farmers.

With the right technology and planning, usage of water can go down while value of production goes up.

Despite the Murray-Darling Basin Plan meaning our farmers have had to hand over 2075GL of water away from agriculture, so it can be used for the environment, we have seen our irrigated agriculture sector increase production value through improved water use efficiency.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that in 2017-18 the value of fruits and nuts produced using irrigation increased by 9.2% and dairy increased by 8.3%.

“In 2017-18 Basin irrigators grew more than 70% of all Australia’s grapes, 41% of fruit and nuts, 20% of our vegetables, 99% of rice and 82% of cotton – among other products.” [1]

And that’s just in the Murray-Darling Basin. When it comes to the whole of Australia, the numbers are even higher: “Australia’s irrigators produced 82.5% of our vegies, 92.5% of fruit and nuts, 92% of grapes, 92% of cotton, 100% of rice, 52.5% of dairy, 52% of sugar cane” [1].

Irrigation is a very important part of Australian agriculture; without it the farmers wouldn’t be able to grow their crops and feed the nation in drier years. Modern irrigation infrastructure allows for water to be stored in dams both on farms and in rivers in wet years, and also includes equipment and technology to use the available water as efficiently as possible to last longer.
This will reflect in data showing that farm production keeps going no matter the weather. This enables the industry to keep communities alive and produce enough food and fibre for the whole nation in both wet and dry years at a relatively stable quality and quantity.

Irrigation allows food and other crops to adapt to the changing climate, and thus will have enduring value to allow Australian farmers to prosper sustainably amidst growing concerns over water security.

 

[1] https://www.irrigators.org.au/2017-18-stats-show-irrigation-doing-its-job-securing-food-and-fibre/


Highlights from World Water Day: 
Cotton Australia

Cotton Australia shared that Australia is the most water efficient producer of cotton in the world, and is continuing to invest in research to improve water use efficiency. The Australian cotton industry achieved a 40% increase in water efficiencies in the decade to 2013.

On average cotton farms have approximately 42 percent of their land dedicated to native vegetation.  More than 42,000 birds representing 45 species were found on farm water storages in the Gwydir Valley, 153 bird species were found in natural vegetation in the Namoi Valley, and 450 species of invertebrates have been recorded in one cotton field during the summer. [1

Photo courtesy of Cotton Australia

 

Murray Irrigation

The environment is the single largest customer of Murray Irrigation, which has the largest geographic footprint of all irrigation infrastructure operators in NSW.  Through their agreement with the Office of Environment and Heritage, they are able to deliver environmental flows into  the Edward River, Jimaringle-Cockran and Gwynnes Creeks and the Tuppal Creek.  They also deliver both environmental and operational water into the Wakool River and Billabong Creek (which also service numerous communities in their footprint).

Murray Irrigation has also been working with local farmers and environmental water managers to deliver water through the Murray Private Wetlands Watering Program since its inception in the early 2000s.

Editorial by Andrew Gregson

As I write, the Murray-Darling Basin Plan passes its last Parliamentary hurdle. Today is technically the last day that a disallowance motion could be put. The Minister for the Environment, Tony Burke, has marked the occasion by having a Member on his own side of the Parliament ask a question about it. Known as a “Dorothy Dixer”, these questions are designed to give the Government the opportunity to profess how wonderful they are. It’s pure theatrics and generally utterly irrelevant to the running of the country. Compounding the theatricality is Minister
Burke’s decision to nominate one activist for his role in bringing about the Plan. He even invited that activist to be present in the House for the question.
Henry Jones is a fisherman on  the lower Lakes. Apparently it’s important that he carry on the inter-generational fishing business in that part of the world and that his catch feed people. Of course, to do so sees enormous ramifications for other inter-generational businesses (irrigation farms) and the reduction of capacity to feed many, many more people.
But Canberra is like that. What is patently absurd to anyone viewing from elsewhere can seem entirely reasonable in the national capital. It is a strange and fascinating world up there. So we thought we’d embrace that world and
descend upon it in July for our first ever conference. The move is being well received with the Shadow Minister confirming his attendance and the Minister likely to. Representatives of media organisations are making plans to cover it in detail, Commonwealth Departments are sending representatives (being some of the first to register) and overseas delegates planning to attend.
Why? Simply put, the conference has attracted a lineup of international guest speakers to consider a long-range future; to get out of the day to day and to view irrigation in Australia from other perspectives. We’d be delighted to have you join us, to have your say and to assist in having Canberra see through our eyes! The details are inside.

Read the full Productive Water Journal from Autumn 2013 [HERE]

Editorial by Andrew Gregson

I’ve heard the word “done” a lot in the last few days in reference to the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, albeit in a range of contexts. I’ve heard “we’ve been done”, I’ve heard “the Greenies got done” but perhaps most troubling of all I’ve heard “it’s done”. The good news is that we’ve ended up with a Plan drastically better than it might have been, thanks in no small parts to the efforts of community and irrigation leaders who give their time to NSWIC. As the article inside attests, the Plan is a long way from perfect, but a long way from what it might have been. By no means, though, is it “done”. The implementation period lies ahead, and it is in that period that danger lies. During the last four years, we invested a whole lot of resource into ensuring the Plan was a discussion point around the dinner tables of Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane. We took a rural issue and made it important in urban electorates. That, to a large extent, assisted in softening the impact of the thing. The danger now lies in those  same dinner tables thinking it is “done” whilst we get “done” in the implementations. We need to be on top of – and involved in – Environmental Watering Plans, Water Recovery Strategies, Environmental Works and Measures
programs and countless funding and charging decisions. Each and every one of those has the capacity to turn the Plan on its head and leave us with the sort of outcomes that we don’t want. Now is the time for detail, the time to be vigilant and the time to be well informed. We need to hear from you and you need to hear from us. Thanks for staying in touch. 
M
ake no mistake – water is scarce and there are many competing demands. Ensuring sufficient Productive Water is and will continue to be an ongoing and difficult task. It’s far from done…

Read the full Productive Water Journal from Summer 2013 [HERE]

Editorial by Andrew Gregson

We chose the name “Productive” for very good reason. Irrigators are accused on the odd occasion of “wasting” water. Nothing could be further from the truth. Every drop that we extract is for productive use. Do you like wine?
It’s highly likely part of what you’re drinking was from irrigation. Enjoyed your orange juice at breakfast this morning? Again, highly likely that it was irrigated (because that’s Australian juice you’re drinking, right?). Rice with your dinner? Irrigated. Popcorn with your movie? Irrigated. If any Australian thinks they don’t have an interest in irrigation, they should take off everything they’re wearing that’s made of cotton. Perhaps close the blinds first.
There’s no doubt that at some stage in the Basin Plan process – and in every other policy move around water use – there are good intentions at play. Somewhere along the line with the Basin Plan, though, things derailed
and politics became the driving force. Basin Plan politics plays out differently for different sectors – what you hear in Adelaide is entirely different to what you hear in Brisbane. What you hear in Canberra is somewhere between the effectiveness of the lobby groups and the polling of marginal seats.
NSW Irrigators Council has spent plenty of time in the last few years reminding the metropolitan centres that the Basin Plan has real effects on them. A job loss is a job loss no matter where it occurs. Closure of communities will be felt everywhere. If the price of fresh food is forced up with the removal of water, it’s
everyone’s hip pocket that will suffer. That’s because irrigators use water for productive means. That production, according to a report just released by the NSW Government, results in 3.55 jobs being created by each and every irrigator just in their operation. Each operator then directs 60% of their farm expenditure into the nearest community where the dollars are productive again.
The equation is simple – water used for irrigation is Productive Water.

Read the full Productive Water Journal from Autumn 2012 [HERE]