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1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2009–10  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 04/06/2010   
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Contents >> Agriculture >> Agricultural environment

AGRICULTURAL ENVIRONMENT

Australia's average elevation is the lowest of any continent, with a mean elevation just exceeding 200 metres. The dominant topographical feature of the continent is the Great Dividing Range, which spans the length of the eastern seaboard and has a profound influence on regional weather patterns and land use.

Australia's agricultural landscapes support a wide range of soils. Most are ancient, strongly weathered and infertile by world standards, with deficiencies in phosphorus and nitrogen. Those on floodplains are younger and more fertile. Very few are considered good quality soils for agriculture. To offset nutrient deficiencies, superphosphate and nitrogenous fertilisers are widely used, particularly on pasture and cereal crops. Fragile soil structure and a susceptibility to waterlogging are other common features of Australian soils, while large areas are naturally affected by salt or acidity. These soil characteristics restrict particular agricultural activities, sometimes ruling out agricultural activity altogether.

With the exception of Antarctica, Australia is the world's driest continent. More than a third of the continent is effectively desert; over two-thirds of the continent is classified as arid or semi-arid. The wet summer conditions of northern Australia are suited to beef cattle grazing in inland areas and the growing of sugar and tropical fruits in coastal areas. The drier summer conditions of southern Australia favour wheat and other dryland cereal farming, sheep grazing and dairy cattle (in the higher rainfall areas), as well as beef cattle. Within regions there is also a high degree of rainfall variability from year-to-year, which is most pronounced in the arid and semi-arid regions.

Rainfall variability is very high by global standards and often results in lengthy periods without rain. In the first eight years of this century, Australia experienced two of the worst droughts on record - indeed, in some parts, one long drought lasting several years was the experience. The years 2002-03 and 2006-07 provided the most widespread hardship, with record high temperatures and dry conditions in the early months of 2005 also bringing severe drought to many regions.

This variability, and seasonality of rainfall in Australia requires that water be stored. Under normal seasonal conditions, the ability of primary producers to store water ensures there are adequate supplies for those agricultural activities requiring a continuous supply. The development of large-scale irrigation schemes has opened up areas of inland Australia to agricultural activities which otherwise would not have been possible.

Evaporation is another important element of Australia's environment affecting agricultural production. Hot summers are accompanied by an abundance of sunlight. This combination of climatic variables leads to high rates of evaporation. Areas that have been cleared for crop and pasture production tend to coincide with areas that receive five to nine months of effective rainfall (where rainfall exceeds evaporation) each year. In areas of effective rainfall of more than nine months, generally only higher value crops or tropical crops and fruits are grown, while in areas with effective rainfall of less than five months, cropping is usually restricted to areas that are irrigated.

Since European settlement the vegetation of Australia has altered significantly. In particular, large areas of Australia's forest and woodland vegetation systems have been cleared, predominantly for agricultural activity. The areas that have been altered most are those which have been opened up to cultivation or intensive grazing. Other areas, particularly those semi-arid regions previously cleared of timber and scrub to allow extensive grazing of native grasses, now show signs of returning to their previous condition. In recent years various state and territory legislation has seen restrictions applied to the area of old growth and regrowth forest and woodland that can be cleared without a permit.

For more details see the Geography and climate chapter.


Land use

In spite of Australia's harsh environment, agriculture is the most extensive form of land use. At 30 June 2008, the estimated total area of establishments with agricultural activity was 417.3 million hectares (mill. ha), representing 54% of the total land area - 6% of which had been cropped (table 16.1).

16.1 LAND USE BY AGRICULTURAL ESTABLISHMENTS(a), -Year ended 30 June

Area cropped during year(b)
Area of establishments with agricultural activity
Proportion of Australian land area
mill. ha
mill. ha
%

2006
24.6
434.9
56.5
2007
23.5
425.4
55.3
2008
24.4
417.3
54.2

(a) Establishments with EVAO or turnover of $5,000 or more.
(b) Excludes crops harvested for hay and seed, and pastures and grasses.
Source: ABS Agricultural Commodities, Australia (7121.0).


Queensland had 141.1 mill. ha devoted to agricultural activity while Western Australia had 93.0 mill. ha (graph 16.2). Land area not used for agriculture consisted of unoccupied land (mainly desert in western and central Australia), Aboriginal land reserves (mainly located in the Northern Territory and Western Australia), forests, mining leases, national parks and urban areas.

16.2 AREA OF ESTABLISHMENTS WITH AGRICULTURAL ACTIVITY - 30 June 2008
Graph: 16.2 AREA OF ESTABLISHMENTS WITH AGRICULTURAL ACTIVITY—30 June 2008



Irrigation

The high variability in river flow and annual rainfall, which are features of the Australian environment, means that successful ongoing production of many crops and pastures is dependent on irrigation. In 2007-08, 28% (39,600) of all agricultural establishments reported irrigation activity. In total 6,300 gigalitres of irrigation water was applied in 2007-08, an average application rate of 3.4 megalitres per irrigated hectare.

Rice is only grown in areas that can guarantee an adequate supply of irrigation water. Grapes, vegetables, cotton and nurseries/cut flowers/cultivated turf are the other most intensively irrigated crops, with 96%, 93%, 85%, and 83% respectively of their total growing areas being irrigated in 2007-08. However, the total area of land irrigated, about 1.9 mill. ha in 2007-08, represents less than 1% of the total land used for agriculture (table 16.3).

Most irrigated land is located within the confines of the Murray-Darling Basin, which covers parts of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia and all of the Australian Capital Territory.

16.3 PASTURES AND CROPS IRRIGATED - 2007-08

NSW(a)
Vic.
Qld
SA
WA
Tas.
NT
Aust.

AREA IRRIGATED ('000ha)

Pasture and other crops(b)
For grazing
126
221
^63
^70
^17
49
^ -
544
For hay
^44
^45
27
^22
np
^7
np
147
For silage
^16
^32
^11
^4
* -
^3
-
^65
Rice
2
-
-
-
-
-
-
2
Other cereals(c)
200
^15
106
^8
*5
^5
-
340
Cotton
37
-
21
-
-
-
-
58
Sugar cane
*9
-
184
-
2
-
-
187
Other broadacre(d)
16
*7
*17
^8
np
7
np
58
Fruit and nuts etc.(e)
30
33
35
16
10
3
^3
131
Vegetables(f)
12
28
34
16
9
14
^1
114
Nurseries etc.(g)
^3
^4
^4
1
np
-
np
14
Grapevines
36
^39
^1
77
^13
1
** -
168
Total(h)
525
428
513
226
63
92
^5
1 851

VOLUME APPLIED (ml)

Pasture and other crops(b)
For grazing
^291 572
662 099
153 100
278 413
^98 698
^157 182
^400
1 641 464
For hay
^156 508
^128 870
79 542
^117 723
np
^12 634
np
501 588
For silage
^41 621
^66 588
^40 218
^9 063
np
np
-
^162 060
Rice
26 664
-
-
-
-
-
-
26 664
Other cereals(c)
571 730
^29 443
327 456
^9 073
9 902
^7 354
-
954 958
Cotton
204 646
-
104 796
-
-
-
-
309 442
Sugar cane
*3 569
-
834 414
-
25 214
-
-
863 198
Other broadacre(d)
^36 704
*21 407
*44 434
^52 980
^15 218
np
np
185 394
Fruit and nuts etc.(e)
135 259
162 430
106 655
94 390
48 062
6 218
^6 910
559 924
Vegetables(f)
48 081
85 970
^112 980
88 244
47 527
43 816
^4 031
430 649
Nurseries etc.(g)
^16 270
^13 289
16 110
2 450
12 541
np
np
62 257
Grapevines
135 294
^152 661
^4 700
^203 349
^17 239
^1 356
**2 191
516 790
Total(h)
1 677 083
1 332 045
1 842 729
880 268
284 878
252 113
^15 683
6 284 799

^ estimate has a relative standard error of 10% to less than 25% and should be used with caution
* estimate has a relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution
** estimate has a relative standard error greater than 50% and is considered too unreliable for general use
- nil or rounded to zero (including null cells)
np not available for publication but included in totals where applicable, unless otherwise indicated
(a) Includes ACT.
(b) Includes cereals and lucerne.
(c) Includes for grain or seed
(d) Includes other broadacre crops
(e) Includes plantation and berry fruits
(f) Includes vegetables for human consumption and seed
(g) Includes cut flowers and cultivated turf
(h) Includes pastures or crops not elsewhere classified.
Source: ABS Water Use on Australian Farms (4618.0).


Gross value of irrigated production

The following estimates of Gross Value of Irrigated Agricultural Production (GVIAP) have been calculated using a recently developed improved methodology. The estimates are presented in current prices, and therefore changes between years do not show the impact of changes in prices over time.

In 2006-07, irrigated agricultural land comprised less than 1% of all agricultural land in Australia. However, in the same period the gross value of production from irrigated land was $12.3 billion(b), which represented 34% of the total gross value of agricultural production (table 16.4 and table 16.6). In 2002-03, GVIAP was $9.3b and represented 29% of the total gross value of agricultural production. Latest estimates show the Fruit and nuts commodity group was the highest contributor to the total value of irrigated production with $2,913m, followed by vegetables ($2,526m) and dairy production ($1,697m). These three commodities accounted for 58% of total GVIAP in 2006-07.

16.4 GROSS VALUE OF IRRIGATED AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION, 2002-03 to 2006-07

2002-03
2003-04
2004-05
2005-06
2006-07

Current prices in $m

Commodity groups
Cereals for grain and seed
262.9
257.6
207.3
200.3
223.2
Total hay production(a)
239.6
287.6
221.9
240.0
295.4
Cereals for hay
^30.3
^26.6
^17.3
(b) -
(b) -
Pastures for hay
209.3
261.0
204.6
(b) -
(b) -
Pastures for seed
^34.4
^46.2
*44.5
(c) -
(c) -
Cotton(d)
^834.3
658.1
^908.1
869.8
485.8
Rice
152.5
179.8
100.6
273.7
55.0
Sugar cane(e)
406.9
405.5
459.9
496.9
583.1
Other broadacre crops
113.7
105.7
^72.2
65.7
36.1
Fruit and nuts(f)
1 682.6
1 779.2
1 948.8
2 137.2
2 913.2
Grapes
1 142.7
1 482.2
1 361.9
1 251.5
1 040.5
Vegetables for human consumption and seed
1 532.7
1 856.8
1 741.3
2 411.5
2 526.2
Nurseries, cut flowers and cultivated turf
467.9
588.0
651.0
1 165.9
1 187.4
Dairy production
1 505.5
1 627.4
1 802.5
1 877.7
1 697.1
Production from meat cattle
670.9
^892.1
810.9
968.1
989.0
Production from sheep and other livestock
276.7
269.5
239.4
257.2
287.2
Total
9 323.3
10 435.7
10 570.3
12 215.6
12 319.3

^ estimate has a relative standard error of 10% to less than 25% and should be used with caution
* estimate has a relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution
- nil or rounded to zero (including null cells)
(a) Includes other crops for hay in 2005-06 and 2006-07, however from 2000-01 to 2004-05 other crops for hay is included in other broadacre crops.
(b) Data not collected separately.
(c) Data not collected
(d) Includes value of cotton seed.
(e) Includes sugar cane cut for crushing and plants.
(f) Includes berry fruits.
Source: ABS Experimental Estimates of the Gross Value of Irrigated Agricultural Production, 2000-01 to 2006-07 (4610.0.55.008)






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