Why irrigation is important for sustainable food production

  • Irrigation is about getting the most amount of fruit, veggies, grains, fibre (and other produce) with the lowest amount of water resources.

  • Irrigation lets farmers control their water so that it can be used optimally to get the most crop per drop. Water can be applied to a crop in the right quantity, at the right time.

  • Irrigation underpins the production of many fruit, vegetable and cereal crops including soya, berries, nuts, legumes such as mung beans as well as supporting meat, dairy and fibre.

  • Increasing food demand and increasing water scarcity means irrigation has a vital role at the nexus of food and water security into the future.

  • Irrigation technology and infrastructure allows farmers to be more resilient to the harsh realities of Australia’s variable rainfall patterns and dry climate.

  • Since the late 1960s, irrigation farmers have worked with governments through multiple stages of water reform, actively seeking to improve the environmental and productive resilience of their local regions.

  • Irrigation in NSW contributes more than $3.5 billion to the State’s economy [1]  and employs tens of thousands of people across the production and value chain.

Conclusion

We must continue to recognise the role of irrigation in sustainable food and fibre production, through efficient management of water resources, as well as the environmental stewardship of our farmers by protecting biodiversity, providing drought refuges for wildlife, and in conserving native species.

 

Full credit and all rights for the previous stories are reserved for the relevant Member Organisation. Thank you to our Members, and other partners, for taking part in this campaign.

 

 [1] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Gross Value Irrigated Agricultural Production 2016-17.

Highlights from World Water Day: Yanco Creek

Irrigation farmers in Yanco Creek are collaborating to improve platypus habitat in their waterways.

This involves over 150 landholders voluntarily contributing through levy payments to improve the health of the creek system. These irrigation farmers highly value wetland ecosystems and the populations of threatened species in the catchment, such as the nationally endangered Trout Cod while at the same time producing high yielding, high quality food and fibre.

 

Highlights from World Water Day: National Farmers Federation & Australian Farmers

Australian Farmers shared the news of the installation of Australia’s largest solar diesel hybrid irrigation system, which officially turned on last year.

The 1500 solar panels cover almost one hectare of land on Jon Elder’s 6000 acre cotton and wheat irrigated farm. Mr Elder’s irrigation system is now run by a 500kw solar system during the day and as the sun goes down the diesel generator gradually kicks in to water his farm.

“By switching to the hybrid system we will be producing 500 tonnes less greenhouse gas each year. The environmental advantages are incredible,” Mr Elder said.

In the last ten years the price of solar panels has dropped by 85%, which has lead to more farmers making the business decision to use solar in their everyday farming practices.

 

Photos Courtesy of National Farmers Federation & Australian Farmers. [1


Highlights from World Water Day: 
Murrumbidgee Irrigation

Murrumbidgee Irrigation shared how they deliver environmental flows to several sites, including Tuckerbil Swamp and the Ramsar listed Fivebough swamp, which have been critical in supporting the Australasian bittern breeding.  

Murrumbidgee Irrigation also shared news of a local orchardist, Orlando (Ronnie) Calabria – an 81-year-old orchardist – who has planted 30,000 trees in his lifetime to restore the local environment.

Photo courtesy of Murrumbidgee Irrigation

 

Highlights from World Water Day: Ricegrowers’ Association

The Ricegrowers Association (RGA) showed how the Australian rice industry is a trailblazer for sustainable irrigation farming, with Australian rice growers using 50% less water to grow one kilo of rice than the world average, and are recognised worldwide for growing high quality rice varieties suitable to Australia’s climate.

The farms where rice is grown host an enormous diversity of wildlife, including threatened or endangered species such as the critically endangered Australasian Bittern and Southern Bell Frog. One of Australia’s most endangered birds, the Australasian Bittern, otherwise known as “the Bunyip bird”, is rarely seen and is a globally threatened species. 

The Bitterns in Rice Project [1]  seeks to bridge the gap between agriculture and wildlife conservation in the Murray-Darling Basin. Rice growers together with scientists are supporting this project. From this project, we have discovered that there is a breeding population into the hundreds using NSW Riverina rice crops as breeding habitat. It is estimated that there is only about 2500 individuals remaining in three countries: Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia.


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.

EnvIrrigators campaign shows environmental stewardship of irrigation farmers

By Christine Freak

For World Water Day (March 22nd), the NSW Irrigators’ Council launched our EnvIrrigators campaign.

The campaign celebrated irrigation farmers’ environmental stewardship and contributions to water efficient, and thus sustainable, food and fibre production.

The campaign highlighted tremendous examples of irrigation farmers carefully managing their local environment in NSW.

  • Many of our farmers have wetlands on their property and work with the Office of Environment and Heritage to water the area to make a drought refuge for wildlife.
  • We have irrigation farmers in NSW undertaking Native Re-vegetation Programs on their farms to promote biodiversity.
  • We have irrigation schemes who deliver environmental water to valuable wetlands.
  • Furthermore, our irrigation farmers in Australia are some of the most water efficient in the world.

 

Highlights from World Water Day: Coleambally Irrigation Corporation Limited

CICL has been working with the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) to use their water channel infrastructure to deliver environmental water to natural wetlands in the Coleambally area since 2015. CICL delivers environmental water to a number of native wetlands located on private property that have been otherwise disconnected from naturally occurring periodic water events.

By using their channel infrastructure, environmental water can be delivered to sites which otherwise would only ever be inundated in extremely wet years. These sites are privately owned, and the areas watered are being voluntarily managed by the owners for wildlife conservation.

The primary focus of OEH’s program in the area is the delivery of water to the Wargam Swamps in the south-western part of the CICL area, with water supplied via the West Coleambally Channel. These swamps are located 69km north of Deniliquin and 81km south-west of Coleambally and provide an important refuge habitat in the agricultural landscape for water birds.

CICL is currently partnering with OEH through their Saving Our Species initiative to secure the Southern Bell Frog population in the wild. CICL has also commissioned two field guides for native plants and birds of the Coleambally Irrigation District.

CICL has been working with the Bitterns in Rice team [1]  to monitor bittern breeding in the area and to help develop recommendations for bittern-friendly rice farming. More information about the first Bittern to be tracked by satellites as part of the Bitterns in Rice project, can be found here. [2

Coleambally Irrigation Area has undergone modernisation through a Land and Water Management Program, which is a joint government and community investment in improved land and water management to preserve the environmental sustainability. [3