4618.0 - Water Use on Australian Farms, 2018-19 Quality Declaration 
Latest ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 28/05/2020   
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Water used on farms

Drought conditions meant reduced water availability for many Australian farming businesses in 2018-19.

During 2018-19:

  • 8 million megalitres of water was used in agricultural production (down 24% from 2017-18)
  • 7.2 million megalitres of water was applied to crops and pastures (down 26%)
  • 2 million hectares of agricultural land was irrigated (down 15%)
  • 21,900 farms applied water to their land (down 2%)


Irrigation of crops and pastures

The majority of water used on farms was applied to pastures and crops.

In 2018-19, 5 million megalitres were applied to Crops (70% of all water applied):
  • 1.3 million megalitres for cotton (down 53%)
  • 1 million megalitres for fruit and nuts (up 7%)
  • 882,000 megalitres for sugar cane (down 13%)
  • 75,600 megalitres for rice (down 90%)

Of the 2.2 million megalitres applied to Pastures (30% of all water applied):
  • 1.5 million megalitres for pastures and cereals fed off (down 18%)
  • 454,400 megalitres for pastures and cereals cut for hay (down 5%)
  • 214,900 megalitres for pastures cut for silage (up 11%)

Image: Graph showing water application rate for selected crops and pastures for the past two years.

Murray Darling Basin

Lower than average rainfall and resulting drought in many catchment areas resulted in decreased water available for irrigation.

Almost two thirds (62%) of Australia's total water use for irrigation was within the Murray Darling Basin region where there was:
  • 1.1 million hectares of agricultural land irrigated (down 26%)
  • 4.4 million megalitres of water applied (down 35%)

Cotton, pastures for grazing and fruit and nut trees used 63% of the water applied in this region:
  • 1.2 million megalitres for cotton (down 51%)
  • 803,000 megalitres for pastures and cereals crops used for grazing (down 36%)
  • 769,000 megalitres for fruit and nuts (up 13%)


Drought, bushfires and Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Impacts of drought are evident in agricultural activity estimates for the 2018-19 reference year across a number of the ABS' agricultural collections, including Water Use on Australian Farms. Many farming areas across Australia experienced drought throughout 2019, with New South Wales and Queensland particularly impacted.

There are no impacts in the 2018-19 estimates from more recent events including the COVID-19 pandemic, and from bushfire activity in New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory in late 2019 and early 2020. The ABS is continuing to monitor potential impacts from natural disasters and COVID-19 across its agricultural collections for the 2019-20 reference year and beyond. For more information on the expected economic impacts of the Bushfire and COVID-19, please see the ABS Chief Economist Series paper Measuring natural disasters in the Australian economy.

New ABS Website

The ABS will be launching a new website in 2020. You will soon be able to see how this release will appear on the new website by exploring our Beta site. Regular users of this information are encouraged to explore the Beta site and consider if this will affect the way you access and consume ABS data and information. If you would like more information on the new ABS website, or want to discuss how the transition to the new site might impact you, please email newABSwebsite@abs.gov.au