PASTURES AND CROPS IRRIGATED
Australian agricultural businesses applied 3% more irrigation water to agricultural land in 2008-09 than in the previous year. However, the area irrigated decreased 5% to 1,761 thousand hectares. As a result, the application rate increased from 3.4 ML/ha to 3.7 ML/ha.
Pasture for grazing accounted for the greatest amount of irrigated land (419 thousand hectares) in Australia in 2008-09, with the volume of irrigation water applied representing 21% of the national total.
The cotton industry showed signs of recovery following the falls in volume of 2007-08 due to the effects of dry conditions. The irrigation activity was similar to the 2006-07 season, with 880 gigalitres of irrigation water applied to 142 thousand hectares. This was in contrast to the 309 gigalitres used for irrigation and 58 thousand hectares irrigated in 2007-08, which was a very poor year historically.
In 2008-09 the rice industry faced similar conditions, but did not exhibit the same level of recovery as the cotton industry. Although the number of irrigators increased sevenfold to 161 while the volume of water applied more than trebled to 101 gigalitres in 2008-09, the levels remained historically low.
Cotton and cereal crops for grain or seed were the main uses of irrigation water in New South Wales in 2008-09, accounting for 916 gigalitres of irrigation water, or just under half of all irrigation water in the state.
In Victoria, the main use of irrigation water was pasture for grazing (591 gigalitres), using just under half of all irrigation water used in the state, with most users in the dairy sector. Other major irrigation water uses were fruit trees, nut trees, plantation or berry fruits (159 gigalitres), and grapevines (153 gigalitres). These results were similar to those recorded in 2007-08.
Sugar cane producers continued to be the largest irrigators in Queensland in 2008-09, using 37% of the state's irrigation water at an application rate of 4.0 ML/ha. Queensland saw large increases in the area under crop for cotton, up to 78 thousand hectares, with 71 thousand hectares irrigated. The volume of irrigation water applied increased fourfold for cotton, up to 414 gigalitres, but did not return to the levels of 2005-06.
Grapevines were the largest irrigation water use in South Australia in 2008-09 (23% of irrigation water in the state), followed by pasture for grazing (21%), and fruit trees, nut trees, plantation or berry fruits (16%). Approximately 78 thousand hectares of grapevines were irrigated at 2.4 ML/ha while 33 thousand hectares of pasture for grazing were irrigated at 5.4 ML/ha. Approximately 18 thousand hectares of fruit trees, nut trees, plantation or berry fruits were irrigated at 7.3ML/ha.
In Western Australia, pasture for grazing used 28% of all irrigation water in the state while vegetables for human consumption used another 25%, and fruit trees, nut trees, plantation or berry fruits consumed a further 21%.
Just over 57% of irrigation water in Tasmania was used on pasture for grazing, with a further 16% used on vegetables for human consumption. The volume of irrigation water used on fruit trees, nut trees, plantation or berry fruits increased 52% in 2008-09 compared to the previous year.
Irrigation of fruit trees, nut trees, plantation fruit or berries, the main crop irrigated in the Northern Territory, increased from 7 gigalitres in 2007-08, to 10 gigalitres in 2008-09, an increase of 42%.
Despite the volume of water applied to agricultural land in the Murray-Darling Basin increasing 11% in 2008-09, the area of agricultural land irrigated in the Basin continued to decrease, to 929 thousand hectares, down 3% from 2007-08. Since 2005-06, the area irrigated and the volume of irrigation water applied in the Murray-Darling Basin have decreased 44% and 53% respectively.
In contrast, irrigation water use outside the Murray-Darling Basin decreased in 2008-09, down 4% from the previous year, with the area irrigated dropping 7%. Irrigation water use outside the Murray-Darling Basin fell 11% from 2005-06 to 2008-09 and the area irrigated 7% in the same period.
Approximately 89% of Australia's cotton growers were located in the Murray-Darling Basin in 2008-09, irrigating 75 thousand hectares more land than in 2007-08 (up 141%). The large increase in volume of irrigation water used was due to improved water allocations in the region. Similarly, Australia's rice producers, all located in the Basin, used an increased volume of irrigation water in 2008-09.
In 2008-09, cotton accounted for the highest proportion of irrigation water used in the Murray-Darling Basin (23%), followed by cereal crops for grain or seed (20%) and pasture for grazing (15%).