The agriculture industry is the major water consumer in the Australian economy. The Water Account Australia 2000-01 (cat. no. 4610.0) showed the agriculture industry accounted for 67% of water consumption in 2000-01.
This publication presents estimates of agricultural water use, sources of irrigation water, irrigation methods, and water traded in Australia in 2003-04. The estimates were compiled from data collected as part of the annual Agricultural Survey for the year ended 30 June 2004.
Comparisons with 2002-03 estimates of agricultural water use, sources of irrigation water, irrigation methods, and water traded in Australia are included in this publication. Due to differences in collection methodology, care should be taken when comparing the results.
Climatic conditions can affect the availability of water for irrigation and the need to irrigate in order to supplement rainfall. During 2003-04, there were areas of Australia which benefited from average to above average rainfall, easing the affects of the widespread drought. The all-Australian mean rainfall for 2003-04 was 541mm, 15% above the 1961-1990 long-term average. There were areas of eastern Australia, however, which continued to receive below average rainfall, intensifying the deficiencies of the drought from previous years. During 2003-04, areas of Australia were also affected by other climatic extremes such as heatwaves and floods. Information from the Bureau of Meteorology on climatic conditions for 2003-04 is included as an appendix.
The ABS welcomes feedback on the content of this publication in terms of the relevance, usefulness, quality and range of the 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 2003-04, 40,400 Australian agricultural establishments reported they had undertaken irrigation activity on their holding, a decrease from 2002-03 (43,774 establishments). This represented 31.0% of Australian agricultural establishments in 2003-04 compared to 32.9% in 2002-03. The number of Australian agricultural establishments also fell to 130,526 in 2003-04, from 132,983 in 2002-03.
Despite the decrease in the number of agricultural establishments irrigating, the total area irrigated increased by 1.0% to 2,402,000 hectares, and the total volume of water applied increased slightly to 10,442 gigalitres. During this same period, the total area of agricultural land in Australia increased by 579,000 hectares.
Irrigation Activity, By State - 2002-03 and 2003-04
Agricultural establishments irrigating
Area of agricultural land
4 272 705
2 464 357
2 229 009
10 403 759
3 953 125
2 559 385
2 420 048
10 441 515
|(a) Averaged across all irrigated pastures and crops. |
|(b) Includes ACT. |
|Number of agricultural establishments and area of agricultural land sourced from Agricultural Commodities (cat. no. 7121.0). |
While at the national level, the number of irrigating agricultural establishments fell by 7.7% between 2002-03 and 2003-04, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory reported slight increases. Of the states/territories, Tasmania continued to have the highest percentage of agricultural establishments irrigating (50.2%), as well as the highest proportion of agricultural land irrigated (5.0%). Western Australia again reported the lowest percentage of agricultural establishments irrigating, down from 22.3% in 2002-03 to 20.7% in 2003-04.
The three eastern mainland states all reported a drop in the percentage of agricultural establishments irrigating, with the largest fall occurring in New South Wales (from 27.3% to 24.4%). While New South Wales reported a fall in both area irrigated and volume applied during 2003-04, both Victoria and Queensland reported increases.
Despite the reported decrease in both area irrigated and volume of water applied in New South Wales in 2003-04, it remained the largest irrigating state or territory, applying 3,953 gigalitres, or 37.9% of the Australian total volume applied, on 892,000 hectares, or 37.2% of the Australian total area irrigated.
Across most states and territories, average application rates remained relatively stable across the two years. The exceptions were Western Australia and Northern Territory, where irrigating agricultural establishments reported a substantial decrease in application rates. The average application rate in Western Australia decreased from 6.5 megalitres per hectare in 2002-03 to 5.7 megalitres per hectare in 2003-04, which remains the highest application rate for all states and territories. The average application rate decreased from 4.7 to 3.8 megalitres per hectare in the Northern Territory.
IRRIGATION WATER USAGE
In 2003-04, the most extensive use of irrigation water by Australian agricultural establishments continued to be pasture for grazing. Almost one-third of irrigating establishments (32.1%), irrigated pasture for grazing, in line with the proportion of agricultural establishments irrigating pasture for grazing in 2002-03 (32.9%). While the percentage of agricultural establishments irrigating pasture for grazing remained stable, the area of pasture for grazing increased by 26,298,000 hectares (7.7%), the area irrigated increased by 74,000 hectares (10.4%) and the volume of irrigation water applied increased by 258 gigalitres (9.1%). The average application rate on pasture for grazing remained relatively static (down 0.1 megalitres per hectare). Nationally, irrigation of pasture for grazing accounted for 32.6% of the total area of irrigated crops and 29.5% of the total volume of irrigation water applied. This was slightly up on the figures reported in 2002-03.
As was the case in 2002-03, rice growers reported the highest average application rate nationally in 2003-04, although the rate decreased from 14.1 to 12.4 megalitres per irrigated hectare. The next highest average application rate nationally was cotton, at 6.7 megalitres per irrigated hectare. While the average application rate for cotton was slightly higher than the previous year, the total volume applied decreased from 1,526 gigalitres in 2002-03 to 1,249 gigalitres in 2003-04.
In 2003-04, the percentage of Australian agricultural establishments irrigating decreased across most pastures and crops grown, compared to 2002-03. The two exceptions were vegetables for seed (up from 53.0% to 74.6% of agricultural establishments growing vegetables for seed) and pasture for seed production (up from 37.6% to 37.8% of agricultural establishments growing pasture for seed production). The percentage of area irrigated also decreased for most pastures and crops grown in 2003-04.
At the state level, pasture for grazing remained the predominant use of water in Victoria and Tasmania. In line with 2002-03 estimates, the volume applied to pasture for grazing in Victoria was nearly two-thirds of the water applied in that state for 2003-04 (66.1%), while in Tasmania the volume applied to pasture for grazing was almost half of the total water applied to crops and pastures (49.0%). The 1,692 gigalitres applied to pasture for grazing in Victoria accounted for 54.9% of the volume applied to pasture for grazing nationally. In 2003-04, sugar cane continued to be the predominant crop irrigated in Queensland (1,141 gigalitres), accounting for 47.2% of the total irrigation water applied in that state, a decrease from 54.4% in 2002-03. The major crops and pastures irrigated in Western Australia in 2003-04 included sugar cane (22.4% of the total volume applied) and vegetables for human consumption (19.9% of the total volume applied). In New South Wales in 2003-04, the major crops and pastures irrigated were cotton, pasture for grazing, and cereal crops for grain or seed. Grapevines and pasture for grazing continued to be the predominant crop and pasture irrigated in South Australia, while fruit continued to be the main crop irrigated in the Northern Territory.
IRRIGATION WATER AVAILABILITY
Water for irrigation purposes is mainly sourced through surface water, ground water, reticulated mains supply and recycled or re-used water from off farm sources.
In 2003-04, the most common source of irrigation water in Australia continued to be surface water, with 28,890 establishments (71.5% of irrigating establishments) reporting it as one of their sources. Nationally, groundwater remained the second most favoured source with 13,442 agricultural establishments reporting it as one of their sources. The number of irrigating establishments using recycled or re-used water from off farm sources increased 49% from 1,053 in 2002-03 to 1,569 in 2003-04.
At the state level, irrigating establishments in South Australia and Northern Territory reported groundwater as their most common source of irrigation water in 2003-04 (45.8% and 92.4% respectively). Western Australia was the only state to report an increase in the percentage of irrigating establishments using town or country reticulated mains supply (up 1.6%), while Victoria reported the largest increase in the percentage of irrigating establishments using recycled or re-used water from off farm sources (up from 3.6% to 6.4%).
Nationally, 6,200 or 4.8% of agricultural establishments reported purchasing extra water, while 4,388 or 3.4% of agricultural establishments reported selling water. Victoria reported the largest percentage of agricultural establishments trading water, with 8.5% purchasing extra water and 5.8% selling water. Water trading in Victoria accounted for 44.7% of the total number of agricultural establishments purchasing extra water in Australia, and 43.0% of the total number of agricultural establishments selling water in Australia. New South Wales had the second largest percentage of agricultural establishments trading water, with 4.4% purchasing extra water and 4.0% selling water.
IRRIGATION WATER MANAGEMENT
Irrigators use a variety of methods to irrigate their crops and pastures, including surface (such as flood, furrow, basin, or border check), drip or trickle, and sprinkler (microspray, portable irrigators, hose irrigators, large mobile machines and solid set).
In 2003-04, the most common irrigation method reported by irrigators continued to be surface irrigation, with 12,119 irrigating agricultural establishments reporting this method (30.0% of irrigating establishments). Nationally, surface irrigation accounted for 58.0% of the total area irrigated, a slight increase compared to 2002-03, when surface irrigation accounted for 56.5% of the total area irrigated.
Amongst the states and territories, Victoria continued to have the highest percentage of establishments reporting surface irrigation. In both 2002-03 and 2003-04, 50.0% of Victorian irrigating establishments reported surface irrigation as one of their methods. Despite New South Wales reporting a slight increase in the percentage of establishments using surface irrigation in 2003-04, the area over which it was used decreased marginally to just under three-quarters of the area irrigated by all methods, and to just under half the area surface irrigated nationally. The most common irrigation method in Western Australia remained above ground drip or trickle irrigation, while Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Northern Territory continued to favour sprinklers.