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%)
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.