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1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2012  
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/05/2012   
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Agriculture

AGRICULTURAL ENVIRONMENT

Australia's average elevation is the lowest of any continent, with a mean elevation of only 330 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 flood plains 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, and 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, beef cattle and dairy cattle (in the higher rainfall areas). There is also a high degree of annual rainfall variability within regions and this is most pronounced in arid and semi-arid regions.

Rainfall variability is very high by global standards and often results in lengthy periods without rain. The 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 that 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 that otherwise would not have been possible.

Evaporation is another important element of Australia's environment, affecting agricultural production, with hot dry summers causing high rates of evaporation in many parts of the country.

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 that have been opened up to cultivation or intensive grazing. Some semi-arid regions previously cleared of timber and scrub to allow 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.

LAND USE

In spite of Australia's generally harsh environment, agriculture is the most extensive form of land use. During 2009–10, the estimated total area of businesses with agricultural activity was 399 million hectares, representing 52% of the total land area – 6.5% of which had been cropped (table 16.7).


16.7 LAND USE BY AGRICULTURAL BUSINESSES—Year ended 30 June
Area planted to crops(a)
Area of farms(b)
Farms as a percentage of total land area(c)
('000 ha)
('000 ha)
%

2008
24 374
417 288
54.2%
2009
27 511
409 029
53.2%
2010
25 968
398 580
51.8%

(a) Excludes crops harvested for hay and seed, and pastures and grasses.
(b) Total area of agricultural businesses with an estimated value of agricultural operations (EVAO) of $5,000 or more.
(c) Total area of Australia includes Jervis Bay.

Source: Agricultural Commodities, Australia (7121.0).


Queensland had 130 million hectares devoted to agricultural activity, while Western Australia had 94 million hectares (graph 16.8). 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.

16.8 Area of businesses with agricultural activity—2009–10



IRRIGATION

High variability in annual rainfall and river flow is a feature of the Australian environment and this means that successful ongoing production of many crops and pastures is dependent on irrigation. In 2009–10, 30% (40,816) of all agricultural businesses reported irrigation activity and in total 6,600 gigalitres of irrigation water was applied – an average application rate of 3.6 megalitres per irrigated hectare.

Rice, cotton, grapes, vegetables and nurseries/cut flowers/cultivated turf are the most intensively irrigated crops, with 100%, 100%, 95%, 86%, and 78% respectively of their total growing areas being irrigated in 2009–10. However, the total area of land irrigated, about 1.8 million hectares in 2009–10, represents less than 1% of the total land used for agriculture (table 16.9).

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.


16.9 PASTURES AND CROPS IRRIGATED, By state and territory—2009–10

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

AREA IRRIGATED (ha)

Pasture and cereal crops used for grazing or fed off
133 035
240 917
^50 683
^45 565
^15 890
55 988
44
542 121
Pasture and cereal crops cut for hay
39 719
^45 789
^27 201
^20 818
^896
4 215
^303
138 940
Pasture and cereal crops cut for silage
^18 465
^16 731
^11 199
*3 588
np
np
53 307
Rice
np
np
np
18 931
Other cereals for grain or seed
151 487
^18 702
37 076
^5 137
np
3 772
np
217 632
Cotton
80 075
73 114
153 189
Sugar cane
np
np
212 615
Other broadacre crops
^21 100
np
^13 876
*1 438
3 014
17 140
np
59 055
Fruit trees, nut trees, plantation or berry fruits
26 455
45 553
33 578
14 940
7 469
^3 057
3 170
134 221
Vegetables for human consumption
14 761
25 158
29 383
11 775
8 007
14 565
675
104 324
Nurseries, cut flowers and cultivated turf
^3 854
3 042
4 013
^775
^1 154
np
np
13 143
Grapevines
37 275
^38 069
np
71 915
^11 180
^1 313
np
162 602
Total
550 158
440 719
502 600
186 494
50 815
104 803
5 021
1 840 610

VOLUME APPLIED (ML)

Pasture and cereal crops used for grazing or fed off
299 901
^797 760
^154 718
^214 316
^89 479
165 289
^139
1 721 602
Pasture and cereal crops cut for hay
^141 445
^109 455
^87 836
^74 744
^5 628
10 462
^3 263
432 833
Pasture and cereal crops cut for silage
^41 787
^27 542
^28 348
*11 836
np
np
118 336
Rice
np
np
np
246 909
Other cereals for grain or seed
393 866
^31 762
112 499
*6 621
**15 533
np
np
567 821
Cotton
468 843
383 107
851 950
Sugar cane
np
np
756 317
Other broadacre crops
*42 314
np
32 416
*3 175
20 879
34 616
np
^139 292
Fruit trees, nut trees, plantation or berry fruits
116 531
259 716
122 668
103 372
36 519
^7 649
8 208
654 663
Vegetables for human consumption
68 552
93 797
87 576
73 272
50 315
44 322
1 395
419 229
Nurseries, cut flowers and cultivated turf
^18 629
11 247
18 438
^2 880
10 783
896
610
63 483
Grapevines
150 649
^155 293
^16 279
174 513
^14 019
np
np
515 484
Total
2 002 797
1 504 742
1 823 870
711 991
252 058
281 953
18 628
6 596 040

np not available for publication but included in totals where applicable, unless otherwise indicated
^ 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)
(a) Includes Australian Capital Territory.

Source: Water Use on Australian Farms (4618.0).

 

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Statistics contained in the Year Book are the most recent available at the time of preparation. In many cases, the ABS website and the websites of other organisations provide access to more recent data. Each Year Book table or graph and the bibliography at the end of each chapter provides hyperlinks to the most up to date data release where available.

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