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AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION IN THE MURRAY-DARLING BASIN
Growing crops and pasture through irrigation is more common in the MDB than elsewhere in Australia. Irrigated agricultural land is a relatively small proportion of total agricultural land throughout Australia (0.6%), however in the MDB, 2% of agricultural land is irrigated. The MDB accounted for 66% of Australia's agricultural water consumption in 2005-06 (table 3.1 in Chapter 3).
Change in agricultural production in the Murray-Darling Basin from 2000–01 to 2005–06
The change in agricultural production over time can be influenced by many factors. Climate, and more importantly rainfall, significantly impacts on farmers' ability to grow annual crops, or sustain existing plantings. Government policies also encourage or discourage the production of particular agricultural commodities (NWC 2008). They can also affect irrigated agricultural production through water licence buyback schemes (Wong 2008). Changes in commodity prices influence agricultural production by impacting on the amount of money farmers can afford to spend on farming inputs (such as water, fertiliser, fuel, labour) to increase production. New technologies can improve productivity and reduce the quantity of inputs (e.g. water, fertiliser) required. These factors affect overall agricultural production in the MDB, and can instigate structural change in the industry, leading farmers to increase production of some commodities and reduce the production of others.
This section reports changes in agricultural activity between 2000–01 and 2005–06, including changes in agricultural area, production of crops and pasture, and livestock numbers. All data are from ABS Agricultural Censuses.
Care should be taken when making inferences on whether comparisons between 2000–01 and 2005–06 constitute long-term trends. The production of annual crops such as cotton, rice, and other cereals can vary significantly from year to year. Additionally, some caution should be exercised when evaluating these changes, due to the methodology used to derive 2000–01 data and changes in methodology for the ABS 2005–06 Agricultural Census (see Explanatory Notes).
The total area of Australian agricultural land decreased between 2000–01 and 2005–06 from 456 million hectares (ha) to 435 million ha. Australian irrigated agricultural land increased by 2%, to 2.5 million ha between 2000–01 and 2005–06, while irrigated land in the Basin decreased by 9%, to 1.7 million ha (ABS 2006a). As a result, agricultural production of many crops in the MDB decreased over this period. Production of a number of commodities such as cotton, rice, canola, tomatoes, melons, onions, lemons and limes was lower in 2005–06 than 2000–01. Conversely, the production of others such as barley, grain sorghum, grapes, almonds, nectarines and cherries, increased in the same period.
In terms of livestock, between 2000-01 and 2005-06 the number of milk cattle, and sheep and lambs in the MDB decreased by 12% and 17% respectively, while the number of meat cattle and pigs increased by 8% and 10% respectively in this period (table 4.15).
Cereal crops produced for grain
Half of all Australian agricultural land dedicated to producing cereals for grain in 2005-06 was located in the MDB, accounting for over half (53%) of all cereal for grain production in Australia (table 4.4). Wheat produced for grain is an important commodity for the Australian economy, contributing $5.1 billion to the total value of Australian crop production ($20.8 billion) in 2005-06 (ABS 2008c). The MDB is a key region for wheat production, accounting for almost half (48%) of all wheat produced in Australia in 2005-06.
The MDB produced almost half (49%) of Australia's barley crop using 52% of the nation's barley growing land. The region accounted for 80% of land dedicated to grain sorghum in Australia, but produced 89% of the total grain sorghum crop, indicating that higher productivity was achieved in the MDB than in other regions of Australia. In 2005-06, all rice produced for grain in Australia (1,003,000 tonnes) was grown in the Basin.
Change from 2000–01 to 2005–06
Because cereals are annual crops, there can be significant year to year variation in both area under crop, and production levels, as a result of a number of factors such as climate conditions or commodity prices. The agricultural area for the production of cereals for grain in the MDB was 9.8 million ha in 2005–06 compared with 8.5 million ha in 2000–01 (table 4.5). The production of cereals for grain was 12% higher in 2005–06 compared with 2000–01. The production of cereals for grain in the MDB, as a proportion of Australian production, remained relatively stable between 2000-01 and 2005-06 (MDB cereal for grain production was 55% of Australian production in 2000–01; 53% in 2005–06).
In the MDB, production levels and the quantity of agricultural land used for growing wheat, barley and grain sorghum were higher in 2005–06 compared with 2000-01, but the area and production of rice was lower (table 4.5). Wheat production was slightly higher in 2005–06 (up 4%), but barley (up 44%) was significantly higher. The increase in production of grain sorghum over this period (up 44%) was significantly higher than the increase in land area devoted to sorghum, indicating an increase in productivity. Rice production was significantly lower (down 39%) reflecting reduced water availability for this water intensive crop in 2005–06 compared with 2000–01 (see Chapter 3).
Selected Other crops and pasture
The MDB accounted for almost half (47%) of Australia's land dedicated to growing hay (including pasture, cereals and other crops cut for hay) in 2005–06. Also, most Australian cotton was produced in the MDB (92%) and 93% of Australian land devoted to cotton growing was located in the Basin (table 4.6).
Field peas and canola were among other major crops produced in Australia in 2005–06. In that year, the MDB accounted for over one-third of the land dedicated to growing field peas for grain (38%) and canola (34%).
Change from 2000–01 to 2005–06
As cotton, canola, field peas for grain and hay are annual crops, there can be significant year to year variation in area and production levels as a result of growing conditions, commodity prices and water availability.
The area planted to cotton in the MDB was 483,000 ha in 2000–01, compared to 303,000 ha in 2005–06 (table 4.7). Cotton production was only 15% lower in 2005–06 compared to 2000–01 despite the area of cotton growing land decreasing by 37%. The production of cotton in the MDB, as a proportion of Australian production, remained relatively stable between 2000–01 and 2005–06 (MDB cotton was 91% of Australian production in 2000–01; 92% in 2005–06).
In the MDB, the area of pasture, cereals and other crops cut for hay was higher (up 16%) in 2005–06 than in 2000–01, but the field peas for grain and canola areas were significantly lower (down by 23% and 55% respectively). Interestingly, despite having a lower area of field peas in 2005–06 compared with 2000–01, the production was 8% higher.
Fruit and nuts
A wide variety of fruit and nuts (hereafter referred to as 'fruit') are grown in Australia. In 2005–06, the MDB accounted for 58% of all orchard trees in Australia, and 47% of the total area of fruit grown (table 4.8). Oranges were the most significant fruit crop in the MDB and Australia in terms of production weight (507,000 tonnes in Australia). The vast majority (95%) of Australian oranges were produced in the MDB, with 92% of all trees of bearing age located in the region. In 2005–06, there were more apple trees (8.8 million) in Australia than any other fruit-bearing tree. More than half (53%) of all apple trees of bearing age were located in the MDB and the Basin produced 54% of Australia's apples. The Basin also produced the majority of Australia's almonds (93% by weight and 90% by area).
High productivity levels were evident for a wide range of fruit crops in the MDB in 2005–06. While the region accounted for 82% and 81% of all peach and apricot trees respectively, the proportions of total production were higher, at 92% and 95%. These high production levels relative to tree numbers were also reflected for nectarines, plums and prunes, lemons and limes, and cherries. The widespread use of irrigation for fruit crops in the Basin would help to explain the high productivity levels. Refer to table 4.19 for the irrigated land area used for different crops in the MDB.
Change from 2000-01 to 2005-06
Between 2000-01 and 2005-06, the agricultural area in the MDB used for the production of fruit increased from 77,000 ha to 88,000 ha, an increase of 14% (table 4.9). The area of fruit in the MDB as a proportion of the Australian total fruit area remained relatively stable (at 52% and 53%) during this period.
Changes in production levels varied across the range of fruit in the MDB. For example, between 2000–01 and 2005–06 there was a decrease in the production of lemons and limes (down 29%), pears (down 18%), oranges (down 7%) and apples (down 7%). There was essentially no change in the number of bearing trees for oranges and pears, indicating that the lower production was due to reduced yields. The decrease in lemon and lime production could, at least in part, be attributed to the reduced numbers of lemon and lime bearing trees.
The production of nectarines, almonds, and cherries increased from 2000–01 to 2005–06 (67%, 32%, and 29% respectively). This was influenced primarily by increases in the number of nectarine (72%), almond (44%), and cherry (68%) bearing trees. The increase in production of almonds and cherries was proportionally much less than the increase in number of bearing trees.
Grapes are a key horticultural crop grown in the MDB. While over half (56%) of the total area of grapevines were located in the MDB (table 4.10), a greater proportion of grapes (76%) were produced in the region, indicating higher yields in the MDB. Around three-quarters (74%) of Australia's grapes produced for winemaking were grown in the MDB in 2005-06 and the region accounted for 94% of grapes produced for other purposes, such as drying and table grapes. The high productivity of grapevines located in the MDB is likely to be related to the relatively high proportion of irrigated area for grapes in the region. In 2005-06, 93% of grape growing land was irrigated (see table 4.19) compared with 87% outside the Basin.
Change from 2000-01 to 2005-06
Between 2000-01 and 2005-06, the agricultural area in the MDB used for growing grapes increased by 35% (from 91,000 ha to 114,000 ha) while the production of grapes increased by 25% over the same period (table 4.11). The area of grapes in the MDB as a proportion of the total Australian area of grapes decreased from 61% in 2000–01 to 56% in 2005–06.
In Australia in 2005–06, around one-quarter (26%) of land dedicated to growing vegetables for human consumption was located in the MDB (table 4.12). In this period, potatoes were by far the largest Australian vegetable crop with 1.2 million tonnes produced, and around one-third (32%) of this production was in the MDB. The region accounted for more than two-thirds (68%) of total tomato production, and 56% of Australian tomato growing land area, indicating higher yields, potentially as a result of irrigation. Almost half (48%) of the land area dedicated to growing rockmelons and cantaloupes was situated in the MDB and 38% of land dedicated to growing onions (brown and white varieties) was located in the Basin.
Change from 2000–01 to 2005–06
Between 2000–01 and 2005–06, the agricultural area in the MDB used for the production of vegetables for human consumption decreased from 42,000 ha to 34,000 ha (table 4.13). In addition, the area of vegetables in the MDB as a proportion of the Australian total vegetable area decreased slightly from 30% to 26% during this period. Production levels and the area of agricultural land used for growing vegetables decreased for a range of vegetables in the MDB. For example, there was a decrease in the production of tomatoes (down 27%), melons (down 31%) and onions (down 35%), however potatoes showed no significant change over this period.
At 30 June 2006, there were more sheep and lambs in Australia than any other type of livestock, and 45% of these were located in the MDB. The Basin accounted for 62% of pigs and 28% of cattle at this time (table 4.14).
Change from 2001 to 2006
Between 30 June 2001 and 2006, some livestock numbers increased in the MDB while others decreased. The number of meat cattle increased by 8% (from 6.5 to 7.1 million) as did the number of pigs, by 10% (from 1.6 to 1.7 million). Numbers of dairy cattle decreased by 12% (from 1.0 to 0.9 million) and sheep and lambs decreased by 17% (48.8 to 40.6 million) (table 4.15).