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Water Use on Australian Farms

Statistics on agricultural water use (including pastures and crops irrigated) and irrigation water sources.

Reference period
2019-20 financial year

Key statistics

  • 5.7 million megalitres of water was applied to crops and pastures (down 21%)
  • 1.5 million hectares of agricultural land was irrigated (down 22%)

  • 20,700 farms applied water to their land (down 5%)

Water used on Australian farms

Despite rainfall returning to some parts of eastern Australia in early 2020, national rainfall was below average with 2019-20 the sixth driest year on record.

Reduced water availability and increased water costs were drivers for a further decline in irrigation activity in 2019-20. Irrigators markedly reduced the areas of their crops and/or switched to alternate crops with less reliance on water. Fruit, nuts and grapevines were the only crops that saw an increase in irrigation area and volume from 2018-19, with growers having limited options to change irrigation practices.

Irrigation of crops and pastures

In 2019-20, 3.8 million megalitres were applied to crops (67% of all water applied):

  • 1 million megalitres for fruit and nuts (up 7%)
  • 886,900 megalitres for sugar cane (up 1%)
  • 469,300 megalitres for grapevines (down 1%)
  • 379,600 megalitres for cotton (down 71%)

Of the 1.8 million megalitres applied to pastures (33% of all water applied):

  • 1.3 million megalitres for pastures and cereals fed off (down 15%)
  • 589,200 megalitres for pastures and cereals cut for hay and silage (down 12%)

 

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Murray Darling Basin

Lower than average rainfall and drought in many catchment areas resulted in decreased water available for irrigation in the Murry Darling Basin.

Almost a half (48%) of Australia's total water used for irrigation was within the Murray Darling Basin region where there was:

  • 2.7 million megalitres of water applied (down 39%)
  • 701,000 hectares of agricultural land irrigated (down 35%)

Fruit and nut trees, pastures for grazing and grapevines used 61% of the water applied in this region:

  • 757,100 megalitres for fruit and nuts (down 2%)
  • 527,200 megalitres for pastures and cereal crops used for grazing (down 34%)
  • 375,500 megalitres for grapevines (down 4%)

The biggest decrease in water use in the region was for cotton, down 76% to 287,700 megalitres.

Water sources

Sources of water for agricultural production

Australian farms used a total of 6.5 million megalitres of water taken from various sources including:

  • 2.2 million megalitres from irrigation channels or pipelines (down 18%)
  • 2.1 million megalitres of groundwater (down 8%)
  • 1.4 million megalitres from rivers, creeks or lakes (down 30%)
  • 541,500 megalitres from on-farm dams or tanks (down 29%)
  • 124,000 megalitres from recycled or reused water from off-farm sources (up 8%)
  • 43,400 megalitres from town or reticulated mains supply (down 12%)
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Changes in this and forthcoming issues

Drought, bushfires and Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Impacts of drought are evident in agricultural activity estimates for the 2019-20 reference year across a number of the ABS' agricultural collections, including Water Use on Australian Farms. Many farming areas across Australia experienced drought throughout the reference period, with New South Wales and Queensland particularly impacted. In addition, the impact on estimates from the bushfire activity in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland in early 2020 and flooding experienced in parts of New South Wales and Queensland are varied, with some respondents reporting impacts on their agricultural activity from these events.

There are no impacts in the 2019-20 estimates from the COVID-19 pandemic. 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.

Changes to collection outputs

Final estimates from the ABS' annual agricultural survey are available each year in this publication (Water Use on Australian Farms) as well as in a number of other ABS publications. Content changes for the Rural Environment and Agricultural Commodities Survey (REACS) are made each year to best reflect the highest priority information needs for Australian agriculture and to improve the ease of reporting for survey respondents.  To assist with comparing water use estimates published since the 2015-16 reference period a data item listing is available for download from the "Data downloads" section of this publication. To understand how content from the 2019-20 REACS aligns with content for the 2020-21 Agricultural Census, refer to the 2020-21 Agricultural Census Topics and Data Release Plan.

Data downloads

Water use on Australian farms, Australia and state/territory and ASGS (Statistical Area 4) regions - 2019-2020

Water use on Australian farms, Australia, state/territory and NRM and MDB regions - 2019-2020

Water use on Australian farms, Australia and state/territory and ASGS (Statistical Area 4) regions - 2019-20 (.csv file)

Water use on Australian farms, Australia, state/territory and NRM and MDB regions - 2019-20 (.csv file)

Water Use on Australian Farms – Data item list, 2015-16 to 2019-20

Previous catalogue number

This release previously used catalogue number 4618.0.