4618.0 - Water Use on Australian Farms, 2016-17 Quality Declaration 
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 21/05/2018   
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21 May 2018
Embargo: 11.30am (Canberra Time)
Increased agricultural water use in 2016-17

Australian farmers increased their water use in 2016-17, according to data released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

“Compared with the previous year, the total agricultural area watered increased by 4 per cent to 2.2 million hectares,” said ABS Director of Environment and Agriculture Statistics, Lauren Binns. “This was driven by increases in water availability for irrigation.

"The volume of water used for irrigation also rose, by 9 per cent to 9.1 million megalitres (ML) - that’s the equivalent of about 3.6 million Olympic swimming pools. The largest increase in volume of water applied was in New South Wales (up 46 per cent to 3.8 ML), primarily for rice and cotton crops," said Ms Binns.

Many farmers took advantage of the increased water availability and favourable climatic conditions in 2016-17 to increase the area planted to irrigated crops. This water was predominantly sourced from irrigation channels and/or pipelines (up 20 per cent on the previous year), on-farm dams and tanks (up 35 per cent), rivers/creeks/lakes (up 20 per cent) and groundwater (down 23 per cent).

"The total area of land irrigated for rice increased by 214 per cent to 82,000 hectares,” said Ms Binns. “This was driven by a 237 per cent increase in New South Wales."

The area watered for irrigated cotton increased by more than half (55 per cent) to 328,000 hectares in 2016-17, with New South Wales up 50 per cent and Queensland up 65 per cent.

"Greater availability of water for irrigation also saw production levels for irrigated crops return to pre-drought levels. The value of rice increased by 120 per cent from the previous year to $252 million in 2016-17 while cotton increased by a quarter (25 per cent) to $1,681 million," said Ms Binns

Australian farmers also spent less on irrigation in 2016-17 thanks to higher rainfall across most parts of Australia (down 3 per cent to $245 million) and purchased less extra water. Water purchases on a temporary basis (this refers to extra water allocations that are purchased for a short period, rather than permanently) fell by nearly half (down 46 per cent) to $108 million, while permanent extra water purchases were also down by a half (down 49 per cent to $77 million).

Further details are available in Water use on Australian farms (2016-17) (cat. no. 4618.0).

Media note:

Media contact: For more information and interview opportunities, phone 1300 175 070 or email media@abs.gov.au