This publication presents estimates of agricultural irrigation water use and management in Australia in 2002-03. The estimates have been compiled from the first detailed collection of data on irrigation water use and management from irrigating agricultural establishments. The Water Survey - Agriculture 2002-03 was developed in response to strong demand for nationally consistent information on water use, particularly from government agencies responsible for the environment, natural resources, and agriculture and related industries. The survey forms part of a suite of natural resource management surveys conducted, and to be developed, by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. It is intended to compile estimates of agricultural water use for future reference periods.
The agriculture industry is the major water user in the Australian economy, with estimates in the Water Account Australia 2000-01 (cat. no. 4610.0) showing that agriculture accounted for 67% of water consumption in 2000-01. The estimates in this publication show details of the area of different crops that were irrigated, the volume of water applied and the sources of water, as well as information on water management practices and financial information relating to irrigation (Footnote: The information on volume of water used by agriculture presented in this publication is not strictly comparable to the water use estimates from the Water Account (see Explanatory Notes, paragraph 10).). Information relating to agriculture, compiled from the Agriculture Survey 2002-03 and the Vineyards Survey 2003, is provided in some tables as contextual information for the irrigated agriculture data from this survey. Where data are used from these other surveys, they are clearly identified as such.
An appendix has been included in the publication containing climate information for 2002-03, supplied by the Bureau of Meteorology. This is particularly relevant due to the severe drought affecting much of Australia which peaked in 2002-03, following low rainfall levels in many areas for the several years prior. The drought proved to be one of the worst recorded in Australia, particularly in terms of the area affected. The information from the Bureau of Meteorology shows that for the eight month period ending in October 2002, 97% of Australia experienced below normal rainfall, and 71% experienced rainfall below the tenth percentile. The level of rainfall can impact significantly on irrigation, both in terms of the availability of water to use for irrigation and the need to irrigate to supplement rainfall. One megalitre per hectare of irrigation equates to 100 millimetres of rainfall.
This is the first publication presenting detailed estimates on agricultural water use and management, and the ABS welcomes feedback on the content in terms of its relevance, usefulness, quality and range of data presented. Please send any comments to the Director, Environment and Energy Business Statistics Centre, GPO Box 66, Hobart, TAS 7001, or phone (03) 6222 5804.
For further information about these and related statistics, contact the National Information and Referral Service on 1300 135 070.
During 2002-03, 43,774 Australian agricultural establishments applied 10,404 gigalitres of irrigation water to 2.4 million hectares of crops and pastures, an average application rate of 4.4 megalitres per irrigated hectare. This was nearly one third of the number of agricultural establishments in Australia in scope of the Water Survey - Agriculture 2002-03, but only half a percent of the total area of all agricultural establishments, which includes large grazing establishments with little or no irrigation.
Irrigation Activity, By State - 2002-03
Agricultural establishments irrigating
Area of agricultural land
|(a) Averaged across all irrigated pastures and crops.|
|(b) Includes ACT.|
|Number of agricultural establishments and area of agricultural land sourced from Agricultural Commodities 2002-03 (cat. no. 7121.0). The number of irrigating establishments differs from the number of customers serviced by water authorities. This is because not all customers fall within the scope of the survey and because an agricultural establishment may be more than one customer of a water authority.|
Of the States/Territories, Tasmania reported the highest percentage of agricultural establishments irrigating (48%), and Western Australia reported the lowest percentage (22%). Tasmania also reported the highest proportion of agricultural land irrigated (4.9%), followed by Victoria (4.4%).
Irrigation Activity, Percentage - By State - 2002-03
Agricultural establishments irrigating
Agricultural land irrigated
|- nil or rounded to zero (including null cells)|
|(a) Includes ACT.|
The following map shows that there are two Statistical Divisions in each State/Territory with 50% or more of agricultural establishments irrigating, except for the Northern Territory with one, and Queensland with four.
Agricultural Establishments Irrigating, Percentage, By Statistical Division, 2002-03
The following map shows the percentage of agricultural land irrigated for Statistical Divisions. There are five Statistical Divisions in the top category (10% to less than 25% of agricultural land irrigated) - Melbourne and Goulburn in Victoria, Mersey-Lyell in Tasmania, Sydney and Adelaide.
Agricultural Land Irrigated, Percentage, by Statistical Division, 2002-03
New South Wales was the largest irrigating State/Territory, with 11,230 irrigating establishments applying 4,273 gigalitres, or 41% of the Australian total volume applied, on 939,000 hectares, or 39% of the Australian total irrigated land. Whilst Victoria and Queensland reported similarly high numbers of irrigating establishments, (12,005 and 10,278 respectively) the volume of water applied in these two states was significantly less than New South Wales. In Victoria, the volume of water applied was 58% of the volume applied in New South Wales, and Queensland applied 52% of the New South Wales volume. Together, the three eastern mainland states applied 86% of the Australian total volume of irrigation water, and contributed 87% of the total area irrigated.
Western Australia reported the highest average application rate (6.5 megalitres per irrigated hectare) while Tasmania reported the lowest average application rate (2.4 megalitres per irrigated hectare). The other States/Territories reported average application rates close to the Australian figure (4.4 megalitres per irrigated hectare). In the following map, Kimberley is the only Statistical Division in Australia with an application rate in the top range, ten to less than twenty megalitres per irrigated hectare. The average application rate across all crops in the Kimberley Statistical Division was 14.5 megalitres per irrigated hectare. The Northern Statistical Division in Queensland also reported a high average application rate of 9.4 megalitres per irrigated hectare. The Statistical Division that used the most irrigation water was Murrumbidgee in New South Wales, which applied 1,318 gigalitres at an average rate of 5.4 megalitres per irrigated hectare.
Average Application Rate, by Statistical Division, 2002-03
IRRIGATION WATER USAGE
The most extensive use of irrigation in Australia was pasture for grazing. Nationally 14,419 irrigating establishments or almost one-third of irrigating establishments, irrigated pasture for grazing. Of these, 6,262 (43%) were classified as predominantly in the dairy cattle industry, 5,011 (35%) in the other major grazing industries (sheep and beef cattle), 1,096 (8%) in combined grain-sheep or grain-beef cattle industries and 1,972 (14%) were in other agricultural industries. Irrigation of pasture for grazing covered 710,000 hectares, which was 30% of the total area of irrigated crops, using 2,827 gigalitres, amounting to 27% of the total volume of irrigation water applied. The average application rate to pasture for grazing was 4.0 megalitres per irrigated hectare. After pasture for grazing, cotton was the next biggest water user nationally, accounting for 15% of the volume applied and 10% of the area of crops and pasture irrigated.
Pastures and Crops Irrigated, Australia - 2002-03
Agricultural establishments irrigating
Area under pasture or crop
|Pasture for grazing|
|Pasture for seed production|
|Pasture for hay and silage|
|Cereal crops cut for hay|
|Cereal crops for grain or seed(b)|
|Cereal crops not for grain or seed|
|Other broadacre crops(c)|
|Fruit trees, nut trees, plantation or berry fruits(d)|
|Vegetables for human consumption|
|Vegetables for seed|
|Nurseries, cutflowers or cultivated turf|
|^ estimate has a relative standard error of 10% to less than 25% and should be used with caution|
|(a) Averaged across all irrigated pastures or crops.|
|(b) Excludes rice.|
|(c) Excludes sugar cane and cotton.|
|(d) Excludes grapevines.|
|(e) Totals include other pastures or crops not elsewhere classified.|
|(f) Total agricultural establishments does not equal the sum of agricultural establishments as many establishments grow or irrigate more than one pasture or crop.|
|(g) Total area of agricultural land does not equal the sum of area under pasture or crop as not all agricultural land is under pasture or crop.|
|Number of agricultural establishments and area under pasture or crop sourced from Agricultural Commodities 2002-03 (cat. no. 7121.0).|
The crop with the highest average application rate nationally was rice, with a rate of 14.1 megalitres per irrigated hectare, more than three times the average application rate across all crops and pasture. The next highest national average application rate was cotton, at 6.5 megalitres per irrigated hectare. At the State level, the crop with the highest average application rate was sugar cane crops in Western Australia, in the Kimberley Statistical Division, with a rate of 20.3 megalitres per irrigated hectare. By comparison, the average application rate on sugar cane in Queensland was 5.2 megalitres per irrigated hectare.
At the State level, pasture for grazing was the predominant use of irrigation in Victoria and Tasmania. In Victoria, 1,611 gigalitres, nearly two-thirds of the volume applied in that State, was to pasture for grazing, accounting for 57% of the volume applied to pasture for grazing nationally. In Tasmania, the volume applied to pasture for grazing was nearly half the irrigation water used in that State. Sugar cane was the predominant crop irrigated in Queensland (1,213 gigalitres) and Western Australia (80 gigalitres), making up 54% of the volume of irrigation water applied in Queensland, and 26% in Western Australia. Fruit (fruit trees, nut trees, plantation and berry fruits) and vegetables, were also significant crops irrigated in Western Australia. In New South Wales, the greatest volume of water was applied to cotton (1,212 gigalitres), while the largest area irrigated, 282,000 hectares, was cereal crops for grain or seed. In South Australia, grapevines was the predominant crop in terms of area irrigated (66,000 hectares), although there was slightly higher volume applied to pasture for grazing than to grapevines. Fruit was the main crop irrigated in the Northern Territory, amounting to 8 gigalitres, or just over half the volume applied.
IRRIGATION WATER AVAILABILITY
The most common source of irrigation water in Australia in 2002-03 was surface water, with 31,691 establishments (72% of irrigating establishments) reporting it as one of their sources. The next most common source nationally was groundwater, with 32% of establishments reporting it as one of their sources. In the Northern Territory, 127 establishments (93%) reported groundwater as one of their sources compared with 4% reporting surface water. South Australia was the only State to show a significant proportion (20%) of irrigating establishments reporting town or country reticulated mains supply as one of their sources.
Nationally, 11,640 establishments, or 27% of irrigating establishments, reported irrigating without a water entitlement of some form, with all States/Territories reporting significant proportions, particularly in the Northern Territory (81%). Of irrigation establishments reporting a water entitlement, the most common type of entitlement was a volume entitlement, reported by almost two-thirds of irrigating establishments. Of the almost 14,000 gigalitres of volume entitlement reported by these establishments, 9,250 gigalitres, or 66%, was allocated to them for 2002-03.
Across Australia, 5,429 irrigating agricultural establishments purchased 991 gigalitres of extra water on a temporary basis, costing $124m, an average rate of $125 per megalitre. Fifty-seven percent of the water purchased was in New South Wales, contributing 47% of the amount spent nationally. The highest average cost for water purchased on a temporary basis was in South Australia at $242 per megalitre. Extra water purchased on a permanent basis, including transfers of entitlements, was more expensive, with the highest rate also in South Australia at $1,109 per megalitre. Nationally 140 gigalitres was purchased on a permanent basis, costing $92m at an average rate of $652 per megalitre.
Of the 944 gigalitres of water sold nationally by irrigating establishments, more than two-thirds, on both a temporary and permanent basis, was sold by establishments in Victoria.
IRRIGATION WATER MANAGEMENT
The most common irrigation method was surface irrigation, such as flood, furrow, basin, or border check. Nationally, 12,970 establishments, or 30% of irrigating agricultural establishments, reported surface irrigation as one of their methods of irrigating, used on 1,344,000 hectares, or 57% of the area irrigated by all methods. The highest percentage of establishments reporting surface irrigation, as one of their methods, was in Victoria, where 50% of establishments reported this as one of their methods. Surface irrigation in New South Wales was 691,000 hectares, which was just over three-quarters of the area irrigated by all methods in New South Wales, and just over half the area surface irrigated nationally.
In a fairly consistent pattern across Australia, farmers used their own knowledge and observation as the most widely used tool in deciding when to irrigate and how much water to apply. Nationally, 91% of irrigating establishments reported using this as one of their decision-making tools. Across Australia 13% of establishments used soil probes as one of their decision-making tools. In South Australia, 30% of establishments used soil probes as one of their decision-making tools.
Nationally 30,563, or 70% of irrigating establishments, made one or more changes to irrigation practices in the five years to 30 June 2003. Of the establishments making one or more changes, almost two-thirds reported changing to more efficient irrigation techniques as one of their changes, and over half reported that more efficient irrigation scheduling was one of the changes made.
During the reference period 19,212 irrigating establishments (44%) were intending to make one or more changes to their irrigation practices in the year ending 30 June 2004. Of these establishments, 50% reported changing to more efficient irrigation techniques as one of their intended changes, and 39% reported that more efficient irrigation scheduling was one of the changes intended. Nationally 34,219 establishments (78%) saw barriers to making changes to their irrigation practices, with 61% of these reporting lack of financial resources, and 36% seeing uncertainty of water allocation as major barriers to change.
Across Australia, over half of the irrigating agricultural establishments had on-farm water storage in 2002-03. In the Northern Territory, only 8% of establishments had storage, while in Tasmania, 82% reported storage capacity. On-farm water recycling for agricultural production was carried out by 8,705 establishments (20%) nationally, including 3,522 in Victoria. The number of establishments reporting areas of land laser-levelled for irrigation was 11,647 (or 27% of all irrigating establishments), with 1,809,000 hectares levelled. New South Wales accounted for 59% of the laser-levelled land, Victoria 21%, and Queensland 18%.
During 2002-03, irrigating agricultural establishments in Australia outlayed $1,492m in current and capital expenditure on irrigation (36% of which was capital expenditure). Licence and application charges, volumetric and usage charges, and irrigation fees and charges made up 28%, whilst 36% was operating and other irrigation expenses. Irrigators in Victoria reported volumetric and usage charges of $106m, or 36% of the Australian total, while reporting 24% of the total Australian volume of irrigation water applied. By comparison, New South Wales accounted for 38% of volumetric and usage charges and 41% of the volume applied, and Queensland accounted for 16% of the volumetric and usage charges and 21% of the volume applied nationally.
In most States, capital expenditure on irrigation accounted for between 31% and 41% of irrigation expenditure. The exceptions were Tasmania, where capital expenditure accounted for 60% of irrigation expenditure, and the Northern Territory, where capital expenditure was 15% of irrigation expenditure.
Of the total number of irrigating establishments in Australia, 41% outlayed less than $10,000 on capital expenditure for irrigation over the five years to June 2003. A further 19,450 establishments (44%) outlayed between $10,000 and $100,000. Across Australia 481 establishments (1%) outlayed $1m or more over the five years, of which, 238 (49%) were in New South Wales.
For 2002-03, 30% of irrigating establishments reported a gross value of irrigated agricultural production of less than $25,000. At the other end of the scale, 4% of irrigators reported gross value of irrigated agricultural production of $1m or more. By comparison, total agricultural production (irrigated and non-irrigated) amounted to less than $25 000 for 18% of irrigating establishments, and $1m or more for 6% of irrigating establishments.