Australian agriculture assessment 2001
National Land and Water Resources Audit, 2001
Profile of Australian agriculture
- Irrigation has provided opportunities for developing higher-value, higher yielding industries: 75% of irrigation occurs in the Murray-Darling Basin.
- Irrigation produces about 26% of Australian agricultural products by value from less than 1% of land area dedicated to agriculture.
- Achieving high water use efficiency in dryland (rain fed) and irrigated agricultural systems is of paramount importance for both maximising production and protecting the resource base.
- Australian farmers and graziers are increasingly aware of and applying sustainable farming practices. Many farmers are also monitoring natural resource condition on-farm and managing to minimise impacts off-farm.
- There is much research, development and extension to be done in improving farming practices and developing industry databases that monitor and report on progression in environmental and economic performance.
- Resource degradation issues vary considerably with common issues including weeds, soil erosion, soil acidity, nutrient management and dryland salinity. Farmer management responses to these issues also vary with regions and commodities.
- Adoption of best management practices is gathering pace in most industries and is more rapid where outcomes are both profitable and environmentally sound. Recent industry surveys indicate that producers are well aware of natural resource issues and are adopting a range of practices relevant to their regions.
- Intensive industries such as rice, dairy, cotton and sugar, located in sensitive and land use-competitive environments, have developed environmental codes of practice for their industry. Management practices are continually improving. Guidelines such as the National Water Quality Management Strategy specify water quality thresholds for industries such as feedlots, piggeries and wool processing.
Australian agriculture at a glance
(1989/90 to 1998/99)*
- Gross domestic product $621 billion
- Agriculture as a percentage of GDP ~3%
- Gross value of farm production $24.7 billion
- Irrigated agriculture ~26%
(as a proportion of gross value of agriculture)
- Export value $17.6 billion
- Export value as a percentage of total exports ~20%
- Net farm value $3.2 billion
- Total farm costs $21.6 billion
- Total farm debt $17.2 billion
- Employment at 4.6% of national workforce 370,000
* The data show trends averaged for 1989 to 1992 and for 1995 to 1998. They were all sourced from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economic Commodity Bulletins (1997-1999), where the data for 1998 are stated as 'provisional'.
VALUE OF AGRICULTURE TO AUSTRALIA
Agriculture is Australia's primary way of using natural resources to produce food, drink and clothing. We also export a significant proportion of these goods (Table 8.1).
Table 8.1 Value of major products from agricultural land uses in 1996/97.
|Commodity & group||Value
|% of total
|Distribution by State|
|Broadacre crops||8 383||29.8||76||32||14||10||15||29||1|
|Cereals (includes wheat)||7 177||25.5||76||36||11||10||14||28||-|
|Hay (includes pastures)||596||2.1||-||20||35||9||16||5||-|
|Livestock products||5 754||20.4||-||28||37||10||8||13||4|
|Livestock slaughters||6 215||22.1||53||28||23||26||7||11||2|
|Lamb & mutton||1 039||3.7||70||24||33||5||13||23||2|
|Beef & veal||3 390||12.0||74||23||20||36||4||8||2|
|Total agriculture||28 156||100||-||29||22||20||10||15||2|
* Over 90% in 2000/01.
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The sheep and wool industry produces sheep skins and a range of wool qualities that are used for fine garments, yarn, upholstery and carpets. Mutton and lamb are produced for domestic consumption and export markets. Live sheep are also exported.
Sheep farming occurs across much of Australia (Figures 8.1), including areas in the:
- high rainfall zone;
- wheat-sheep zone; and
- pastoral zone.
Freehold land tenure for the higher rainfall and wheat-sheep zones average 73% and 69% respectively, while the pastoral zone is mainly under long-term crown lease (91%). In each of these zones, farm business profit in 1998 was negative, with an average loss of $31,000. Farm debt averaged $135,000, being less in the wheat-sheep zone.
Many innovations and market forces have contributed towards the development of Australia's modern sheep meat and wool industries (Figure 8.2) so that today, Australia is the world's largest producer of wool, and remains the main exporting country.
The wool and sheep industry began with herded flocks of sheep spread over the countryside, grazing native grasses, with the wool clipped by hand shears, loosely packed in open bullock-drawn drays and sent to uncertain markets in the United Kingdom. National sheep numbers peaked in 1970 at around 180 million, but have since declined to about 120 million. Another peak occurred in the late 1980s, mainly in response to higher wool prices. Annual wool production per sheep has remained reasonably static since 1980, at around 4.5 kg.
At the State level, total sheep numbers over the last 50 years (Figure 8.3) have always been more numerous but more variable in New South Wales. In contrast to most States and Territories, where sheep numbers peaked during the 1960s, sheep populations in Western Australia continued to increase until 1990, partly caused by land clearing in the Great Southern region during the 1960s and 1970s. The general decline since 1990 in all States relates to lower wool prices from 1989.
Trends in sheep numbers located within the agricultural zones of each State and Territory between 1983 and 1997 tend to mirror total sheep populations in each State for this span of years (Figure 8.4).
In 1999, 117 million sheep grazed over 86 million hectares, with much of this area being Australia's semi-arid rangelands or pastoral zone. Most of the sheep population and wool produced came from the relatively smaller high rainfall and temperate zones (Table 8.2).
The gross value of production for the industry in 1999 was $3772 m:
- $1,018 m in slaughtered meat products (0.62 million tonnes);
- $2754 m in wool products (0.64 million tonnes); and
- $175 m exported as live sheep.
About 25% of Australia's sheep meat production is exported each year, and between 4 and 6 million sheep are shipped live.
Table 8.2 Regional sheep and wool production.
|% of Australian
|High rainfall zone||18||82||5||5|
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Practice in the sheep/wool industry
Graziers in the three sheep/wool zones identified different resource degradation issues (Figure 8.5).
- Weeds, soil acidity and dryland salinity were identified as the most serious problems in the high rainfall and temperate zones.
- The main problems identified in the pastoral zone were water erosion and weed invasion. A smaller percentage of graziers noted loss of soil structure, surface waterlogging and wind erosion as issues.
Management practices also vary substantially between zones (Figures 8.6).
- Establishment of trees, shrubs, perennial pasture species, and legumes were ranked highly as key management practices in the high rainfall and temperate zones.
- Piping water to stock, formal monitoring of vegetation condition and stock exclusions at selected watering points were ranked highly as key management practices in the pastoral zone.
- Maintaining vegetative cover along drainage lines, maintaining conservation areas and exclusion of stock from degraded land were common across all zones.
Adoption of best management practice in the sheep/wool industry is being achieved through initiatives such as PROGRAZE (see case study).
* Pastoral zone farms only
** Temperate and high rainfall zones only
SUSTAINABLE GRAZING SYSTEMS FOR SOUTHERN AUSTRALIA
Meat & Livestock Australia in partnership with government
The Sustainable Grazing Systems program was set up to address the issues of declining pasture productivity and sustainability in the grazing systems of the higher rainfall zone of southern Australia (annual rainfall > 600 mm). Rather than the traditional approach where research works independently to develop and package information for producers, Sustainable Grazing Systems has pioneered an attempt to bring researchers, producers and extension agents into a partnership to collectively improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of grazing systems in the high rainfall zone. There are three interacting elements within Sustainable Grazing Systems:
- PROGRAZE® to provide training and skills development for producers;
- a network of 11 regional producer committees to determine local issues and priorities for action, and then to manage local delivery; and
- a National Experiment to develop the principles, tools and indicators that are needed for assessing and improving the profitability and sustainability of grazing systems.
Sustainable Grazing Systems already has an excellent record of delivery to stakeholders, including the following key outcomes delivered by the end of June 2001:
- incorporation of key water management and sustainability messages into PrograzeTM, and its ongoing delivery to around 1,000 producers per year;
- development of a new product (PrograzeTM Update) with a strong emphasis on water management and sustainability, and its planned delivery to 5,000 producers (PrograzeTM graduates) over the next two years;
- establishment of an extended network of 11 committed regional committees throughout Southern Australia who have become champions for development and adoption of more sustainable grazing systems;
- 100 producer-driven regional sites, most of which focus on improving productivity and sustainability through improved use of perennial pastures, grazing management and improving ground cover - unlike many 'research' sites, these have strong credibility with producers;
- two Sustainable Grazing Systems National Farmwalks that attracted over 4,000 producers to regional and national sites;
- quarterly publication and distribution of Prograzier to over 12,000 livestock producers in southern Australia. Recent editions include the successful Water and Nutrients editions, with Pastures, Animals and Biodiversity to come;
- distribution of a special series of Sustainable Grazing Systems Tips and Tools to 11,000 producers, focusing on establishment and management of perennial pastures in the high rainfall zone;
- two highly successful Sustainable Grazing Systems National Forums which have focused on the dual challenge of increased productivity and sustainability;
- three major benchmarking surveys across the high rainfall zone (1994 to 1998 to 2001) to monitor changes in producer adoption of more sustainable management practices (the most recent survey in June 2001 indicates that over 6,500 producers in the high rainfall zone have participated in Sustainable Grazing Systems activities);
- detailed final research reports from the Sustainable Grazing Systems National Experiment, integrated across six national sites and five key themes. These reports will provide new data and information on interactions between pastures, water, nutrients, animal production and biodiversity across a wide range of production systems and environments;
- the Sustainable Grazing Systems Model, a dynamic and powerful predictive model incorporating the above elements being validated and tested against the outcomes of the national experiment;
- an economic analysis tool for use by researchers, that for the first time combines the financial assessment of the impact of experimental treatments, with an evaluation of the impact on the resource base to facilitate full reporting to producers;
- a Sustainable Grazing Systems final report, being written in triple bottom line format, to pull it all together. A survey of core Sustainable Grazing Systems participants has rated the effort and effectiveness of Sustainable Grazing Systems across productivity (67%) environmental (61%) and social (63%), indicating strong progress across each aspect of the triple bottom line.
The Sustainable Grazing Systems harvest year
Sustainable Grazing Systems concluded on 30 June 2001, following five years of research, demonstration, extension and training. Instead of beginning a new program promptly on 1 July the harvest year will run for 12 months with a vision of producers working with researchers to extract and interpret the results and experiences from Sustainable Grazing Systems, and to derive maximum value from the investment in Sustainable Grazing Systems.
The key outcome of the Sustainable Grazing Systems harvest year will be the development and widespread adoption of more productive and sustainable grazing management practices for grazing (wool and meat) enterprises in the high rainfall zone of southern Australia.
The harvest year will build on the results achieved and seek to deliver the following outcomes:
- continuation of a number of key elements of Sustainable Grazing Systems, including many of the sites in the Sustainable Grazing Systems national experiment;
- rapid development of the tools and products from the combination of proven scientific results and producer experience in Sustainable Grazing Systems;
- more rapid analysis of research results and delivery of scientific information and enhanced understanding of the interactions between grazing systems and their environment;
- clearly defined issues for demonstration to producers at local sites, through to key questions for new research and development in future research and development programs; and
- substantially improved program(s) to follow Sustainable Grazing Systems because of the pausing, reflecting, testing, and cross-site analyses during the harvest year.
To progress the development of tools and products for producers, four harvest teams are already operating. These are teams of producers and researchers working to rapidly draw together and interpret the results and experiences from Sustainable Grazing Systems. The harvest teams are:
- water and nutrients in grazing systems;
- pasture and animal management and performance;
- biodiversity (including trees and shrubs) in grazing systems; and
- social and adoption issues relating to profitable and sustainable grazing systems.
An integration team provides oversight and manages the trade-offs between teams.
The beef cattle industry delivers quality meats and leather to Australian consumers, and exports chilled and frozen beef and veal and live cattle, earning a total annual export income of over $2.5 billion.
Beef production occurs across much of Australia (Figure 8.7), including:
- Northern Region (high rainfall 3% area, temperate 3% and pastoral zones 66%);
- Southern Region (high rainfall 4% area, temperate 4% and pastoral zones 20%).
The herd consists of 20 million beasts. Major breeds are:
- Hereford (19.2%);
- Brahman (18.2%);
- Bos indicus x Bos taurus (14.7%);
- British cross breeds (10.7%); and
- Angus (8.4%).
In the pastoral areas of Australia, substantial proportions of the beef grazing lands are held under long-term crown lease tenure (85% of the land). In the higher rainfall and temperate areas, properties are mostly freehold (51% and 93% respectively).
The Australian beef cattle industry has expanded and responded to challenges during its history (Figure 8.8).
In recent times, the industry has sought to increase productivity to compensate for falling prices. In the early 1970s, a large increase in beef cattle numbers occurred as export markets in Europe, North America and Japan developed at the same time that wool prices fell and wheat quotas were introduced in Australia. In the mid-1970s the European Community and Japan restricted access to their markets, causing a collapse in cattle prices.
Beef cattle numbers reached their peak in the late 1970s in Queensland, a little later than the other States where changes in stock numbers were reasonably comparable (Figure 8.9). Restrictions to export markets caused numbers to decline after 1975 in all States. Since 1983, increases in exports of beef, veal and live exports have led to steadily increasing cattle numbers, while maintaining the relativities in total populations between States, with Queensland and New South Wales dominant producers.
Feedlots are increasingly being used to 'finish off' cattle before slaughter. Feedlots are located mainly along the western slopes of New South Wales and Queensland (Figure 8.10), partly to obtain year-round access to a wide range of cheaper grains as feedstuffs. In 1999, Australia's beef feedlot capacity was for more than 873,000 cattle and was used to 58% capacity. A large proportion (49%) of beef were held on just 14 very large feedlots (each holding >10,000 head). A further 14% were fed in the 700 smaller feedlots (holding <1,000 head). In 1999, 349,000 lot-fed beasts were exported (63% of total beef exports).
In 1999, a total of 9.3 million cattle were slaughtered in Australia, producing 1.96 million tonnes of meat with a total value of $3,763 m; 93% of these were retained for the domestic meat markets.
Beef producing regions.
Practice in the beef cattle industry
The beef cattle industry is spread over six zones in the northern and southern zones (making up high rainfall, temperate and pastoral zones).
The most consistently identified issues facing the beef cattle industry are:
- management of weeds (also identified as a priority by sheep/wool graziers); and
- water erosion (Figures 8.11, 8.12).
Other degradation problems identified include waterlogging (mainly in the southern zones), loss of soil structure, soil acidity and wind erosion (both zones) and salinity (southern zone).
Producers identified problems in pasture management requiring research in the 1994 Survey of Temperate Pasture Sustainability Key Program (Figure 8.13).
Graziers approach regional degradation problems in different ways (Figure 8.15) and management options in pastoral zones differ from those used in more intensive cattle enterprises.
- Highest priority was placed on maintaining cover along drainage lines (five of the six zones).
- High priority was also placed on monitoring vegetation condition (northern zone and the southern pastoral zone); maintaining areas of conservation; and soil and plant testing (high rainfall zones).
Best practice guidance is provided to graziers through codes of practice for general agriculture (e.g. developed by the Queensland Farmer's Federation) and through the industry's PROGRAZE (p. 244) and Northern Australia Program initiatives (see case study overleaf). These industries promote sustainability through self improvement approaches to water use, chemical and nutrient management and broadly building manager skills across the business enterprise.
SUSTAINING THE BEEF INDUSTRY - NORTHERN AUSTRALIA
The North Australian Program was the main vehicle for Meat and Livestock Australia involvement in research and development in the beef industry from July 1996 to June 2001. The program included direct investment in projects related to natural resource sustainability and healthy landscapes and has spent $5 million of a $12.5 million five-year budget. A further $2 million will be invested in projects marrying beef productivity and sustainability aspects.
- A significant component of the research effort is directed at understanding environmental systems - a basis for practical management principles: a large-scale project in catchment hydrology and function has provided quantitative information on sediment transfers in the Burdekin river system, Queensland. This project provides a number of management principles to assist in effective soil conservation.
- Another project of similar scale has yielded another set of principles to aid in the conservation of biodiversity within grazing lands, contributing to the vitality and resilience of the Burdekin catchment.
The North Australian Program has also supported a number of focused projects to address specific issues:
- work to quantify the extent of soil acidification associated with stylo-dominant pastures (a tropical legume) and to develop appropriate management practices. Recommendations were produced and widely adopted within four years of the problem being recognised.
As well as understanding the typical Australian landscape system and the impact of grazing upon the landscape, the North Australian Program has initiated work to optimise the productivity of these grazed landscapes within a framework of sustainable land use. Large-scale grazing trials and observations in the Channel Country, Victoria River District, southern and northern spear grass and eucalypt/box woodland regions have expanded tools available to graziers for the use of fire, grazing tactics, infrastructure planning and cattle distribution.
Work has also been commissioned to deal with weed problems: notable success has been achieved in controlling rubber vine and parthenium and the search continues for control measures for other invasive weeds such as giant rats tail grass, chinee apple and African love grass.
The North Australian Program has placed a strong emphasis on integrating its funded research into a useable management framework and is in the final stages of producing a comprehensive training package in grazing land management. This package has been developed in response to producer demand and has been designed to deliver relevant, useful and practical outcomes.
The program has also initiated an evaluation of ISO 14000 and its application to beef enterprises. Adoption of a formal Environmental Management System takes environmental considerations into account within a management context (e.g. production, marketing, administration).
North Australian Program is also a key funder of Rangelands Australia, a joint initiative with the University of Queensland and others to develop a centre for rangeland science education and management with an emphasis on industry relevance and involvement. Rangelands Australia will form an essential link between science and application, providing formal training and qualifications for managers, advisors and administrators in Australia's rangelands.
The standout breakthrough North Australian Program project has been the Beef Plan project. This pilot project has reversed the normal Meat and Livestock Australia approach to technology transfer and adoption by empowering a limited number of groups of producers to work on their own issues, coming to Meat and Livestock Australia and other agencies for support if needed but always on their terms. Much of the activity within these groups has been directed towards resource management issues. The dynamic lessons learnt from the pilot have had a profound influence on shaping Meat and Livestock Australia successor to North Australian Program 3, the Northern Beef Program.
Can North Australian Program claim success in its work in natural resource management?
Clearly, the research has been productive from a technical and scientific perspective.
It is also obvious that the program has:
- listened attentively to producers;
- developed an understanding of their priorities; and
- established a good working relationship with the beef industry.
Without being able to attribute cause and effect, North Australian Program is pleased to note the importance of sustainability among producers with a recent survey of beef producers across Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia ranking it equally as important as profitability.
In response to that awareness, the new Northern Beef Program has nominated 'Balancing business and environment' and 'Emerging environmental issues' as key themes for investigation and development over the next five years.
Meat and Livestock Australia acknowledges the integral support of Land and Water Australia, and Environment Australia in funding projects. It also recognises the immense contribution of collaborating agencies and individual producers. Meat and Livestock Australia will seek to strengthen that collaboration for the long-term betterment of the industry, rural communities and the environment.
Products from the grains industry provide raw ingredients for many familiar foods - bread, biscuits, cakes, noodles, spaghetti, pasta, baked beans, and breakfast cereals. They are used unrefined (rice and peanuts), have components extracted from them (vegetable oils and gluten), and contribute to value-added products (e.g. beer and some spirits). An increasing proportion is being used as feedstuffs for intensive animal production units.
Grain crops are grown in three main regions within the sheep-wheat zone of Australia:
- Northern Region (Atherton, Burdekin, Central, south-east and south-west regions of Queensland; and north-east and north-west regions of New South Wales
- Southern Region (Central and the slopes and plains of New South Wales; Victoria; Tasmania; and southern regions of South Australia).
- Western Region (Central, eastern and northern zones of Western Australia and the Ord River region).
The Australian grains industry produces a range of different crops (Table 8.3) including:
- cereals (wheat, barley, buckwheat, oats, triticale, maize, millet, panicum, sorghum and cereal rye);
- oilseeds (canola, soybeans, sunflower, safflower, linseed/linola, mustard seeds and sesame seeds);
- pulses or grain legumes (chickpeas, faba beans, field peas, lupins, lentils and mung beans); and
- rice (grown under full irrigation).
The grains industry is still dominated by wheat in terms of:
- area (57% of 19.2 million hectares in 1996/97);
- production (59% of 38.5 million tonnes);
- value of production (60% of $8.1 billion); and
- export income (68% of $6.36 billion).
Table 8.3 Australian grain production in 1997/98.
* In 1997/98, 0.38 million hectares of irrigated cereals were grown, of which 0.13 million hectares was rice. It used 1,643 GL each year with an average return of $189 per megalitre of irrigation water.
Approximately 75% of the grains produced in Australia are exported, earning about $6 billion a year. More than half of the exports are wheat and, although Australia produces only about 3% of total world production, national exports make up 15% of world trade.
Exports of canola have increased considerably since 1991, mostly to Japan and China. Australia's pulse crop exports make up between 10% and 20% of world trade.
Wheat acreage expanded slowly in the late nineteenth century (Figure 8.15). Research since World War II has ensured that innovations have continually occurred such as improved wheat varieties and cropping techniques. Clearing of land and capacity to produce winter grain production means that wheat has continued to dominate total production.
During the 1980s, areas sown to wheat declined, mainly due to falling world prices. New crops (mainly lupins and canola) were introduced to diversify rotations and to improve control of weeds and diseases. With the collapse of wool prices in 1989, areas sown to winter grains (especially canola) increased, continuing a trend to increase the area sown to other crops relative to wheat.
Paralleling the expansion in area sown to wheat, has been an almost continuous upward trend in yields achieved during the twentieth century (Figure 8.16) that followed the era of exploitation of the soil nutrient reserves at the end of the nineteenth century (Donald 1965, Angus 2001). Wheat yields over the past 100 years have quadrupled, approaching 2 tonnes per hectare, following the adoption of improved crop practices (e.g. stubble mulching, crop rotation and soil fertility management). Recent regional trends in wheat and other cereal yields are presented in Changing face of Agriculture section of this report.
Changes in the combined area sown to grain crops in each State (cereals, grain legumes and oilseeds, but excluding rice) show significant differences between States during the period 1982 to 1996 (Figures 8.17, 8.18).
- South Australia, in particular, shows little change in area over time.
- Western Australia, after an initial decline in area during the late 1980s has since shown continued expansion to new record areas.
- The pattern for Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland are reasonably similar: a general downward trend until the early 1990s, with modest increases thereafter, except for the pronounced effect of the 1994 drought in New South Wales and Queensland.
- Comparison of geographic changes in the areas sown to crops between the 1980s and the 1990s, show that in large areas of the agricultural zone no net change has taken place, because only minimal cropping is undertaken in these regions.
- Within the traditional cropping zone of Australia, major increases (greater than 5%) occurred throughout South Australia, western Victoria, south-west Western Australia, on the north-west slopes and plains of New South Wales, on the southern Darling Downs and parts of the central Highlands of Queensland.
- By contrast, fewer cropping areas (down by more than 5%) were recorded in the Darling Downs parts of the Central Highlands in Queensland, the slopes of New South Wales, and eastern parts of the Western Australian wheat belt.
The southern grains region produces about 46% of the total grain crop, while the western and northern regions produces about 30% and 25% respectively. Rice is produced entirely (1.2 million tonnes) in the southern region (Table 8.4).
Table 8.4 Regional grain production (1998/99).
|Cropping region/location||Field grains
|% of Australian
|Northern region||8 863||177||117||24.5|
|NSW north-east, Qld south-east||6 105||90||89||16.8|
|NSW north-west, Qld south-west||2 099||10||18||5.7|
|Southern region||14 514||529||1 027||46.2|
|NSW central||2 381||72||16||6.6|
|NSW, Vic slopes||3 373||262||94||10.0|
|Vic high rainfall, Tas grain areas||348||18||12||1.0|
|SA, Vic Bordertown-Wimmera||1 875||122||418||6.5|
|SA, Vic mallee||3 483||22||213||10.0|
|SA mid north-Lower Yorke||3 053||33||273||9.0|
|Western region||9 503||84||1 335||29.2|
|WA central||4 938||57||588||14.9|
|WA eastern||1 546||2||126||4.5|
|WA northern||1 967||4||564||6.8|
|WA mallee and sandplain||1 046||21||57||3.0|
|Australia||32 881||790||2 479||100|
Practice in the grains industry
The Australian grains industry conducted two benchmarking assessments of industry practices in 1994 and 1998. The assessments were aligned to the three major grain growing areas - northern, southern and western regions. Within these regions, the relative ranking of degradation issues varied, but in each region a proportion of grain growers recognised a range of issues of local importance (Figure 8.19).
- Water-borne soil erosion was by far the most recognised issue in the northern region.
- Dryland salinity was of greater significance in the southern region.
- A diverse range of degradation problems was identified in the western region including: soil acidity, dryland salinity, waterlogging, water erosion, weeds, and loss of soil structure (in that order of recognised importance).
The grain industry survey in 1998 indicated that:
- grain farmers were achieving a high level of better management practices compared to 1994 and the trend was towards more farmers using improved practices (Figure 8.20). Even so, the industry average for total adoption of nominated best management practices was still around 7%.
- 74% of farmers had changed their farming practices in the last five years directly due to research findings, and 57% had changed their farming practices in the last two years.
- the use of private consultants increased (up from 29% in 1994 to 49% in 1997) and there was a stronger inclination to experiment with new techniques.
Identified best management practices varied (Figure 8.21), but were mainly associated with:
- tillage (minimum tillage and stubble retention);
- rotations (use of crop and pasture legumes);
- soil fertility assessments;
- maintaining cover on drainage lines; and
- use of contour banks (high priorities in the northern and western regions).
Recent innovations in pasture-cropping techniques (regenerative agriculture) are highlighted in the Birriwa-Gulgong area in Central West New South Wales (see case study overleaf).
Avenues for advice on practice are provided to farmers through the industry programs such as TOPCROP program (Grains R&D Corporation) and through research agencies and agribusiness.
New farming model: Oz farmers show the way
We hear a lot these days about the need to mimic natural ecosystems, increase biodiversity, improve soil structure, maintain year-round water-use, increase ground cover and soil organic matter levels, stabilise soil pH, stimulate nutrient cycles and enhance microbial antagonism to combat root-borne pathogens. There is little practical advice on how to incorporate these highly desirable features into the day-to-day reality of farming, let alone make a profit.
That was, until a handful of innovative Aussie farmers came up with the elegantly simple notion of 'pasture cropping'. Grain growers can now have all of the above, and more. They can graze their paddocks and crop them too. The pastures and the crops will improve with each passing year. How?
Darryl Cluff and Colin Seis from the Central West of New South Wales are two of Australia's leaders in pasture-cropping technology. The Cluff-Seis pasture-cropping technique involves the direct seeding of an annual crop into perennial native pasture. The remarkable success of the technique has hinged on the fact that the C3 winter cereals fit neatly into the growth cycle of C4 warm season native grasses, which are dormant during the cooler months.
They use natural ecological services to replenish and reactivate the resource base. With all agricultural practices, the true bottom line is whether soil is being formed or lost. If it is being lost, farming will eventually become both ecologically and economically unsustainable.
The birth of pasture cropping
Traditional techniques, which involved the complete removal of all vegetation, resulted in vast tracts of bare ground both before and after the crops. These areas were recolonised by relatively unpalatable perennial grasses and naturalised annual weeds. Soil erosion on arable land was extensive, accompanied by soil structural problems and rapid nutrient decline. The use of subclover and superphosphate brought temporary relief, but the long-term trend in soil health continued to be down.
The average annual rainfall in the Birriwa-Gulgong district is around 600 mm with a slight summer dominance, although it is unpredictable and highly variable within and between years. In 1995, following an 18-month drought, Darryl Cluff direct-drilled an oat crop into a native redgrass (Bothriochloa) pasture in which subsoil moisture levels at sowing were zero, yet the crop performed well. The pasture-cropping technique was born. The technique is considered applicable across all rainfall zones.
The following year, Darryl Cluff began experimenting with wheat, and his Landcare colleague Col Seis tried pasture-cropping oats, some grown without herbicide application. Their crops were sown with an Australian-designed and constructed Agrowdrill direct-drill seeder, 30 cm row spacings, approx. 30-40 kg seed/ha and 85-135 kg/ha Granulock 15 fertiliser (N15:P12:S12), dropped into the rows with the seed.
Darryl Cluff intends to continuously crop some of his pasture paddocks to wheat to determine whether the microbial biomass and diversity associated with the living pasture base will be sufficient to prevent the proliferation of pathogens in the soil. In other paddocks, he is trying alternative crops such as lupins (which performed so well last year that follow-on summer pasture regrowth was inhibited), and experimenting with the re-sowing of native grasses such as Themeda australis (kangaroo grass) with the crop seed.
Col Seis has preferred to rotate the paddocks he pasture-crops each year, and reports significant improvement in the vigour and diversity of his native pastures. His principal focus is on livestock production and he uses pasture cropping as a pasture improvement technique.
Improving crops and stock
Col Seis now pasture-crops 240 ha of his 809 ha property to oats, wheat and lupins. He has increased the cropped area every year without reducing his stocking rate; not only because the pasture health is continually improving, but also because the land doesn't have to be taken out of production and 'prepared' for cropping.
His 2000 wheat, Whistler, yielded 3.63 t/ha. The year before, Janz did not do as well and Col Seis puts it down to choosing the wrong variety for the acid soils on his property. Oats have yielded up to 4.4 t/ha since 1995.
Col Seis says the property is producing around 39 kg greasy wool per hectare at an average cost of $2.047 per kg. This compares with a regional benchmark of 35 kg wool per hectare at $3.07 per kg.
Livestock are important to the pasture-cropping method. Col Seis has improved the gross margins on his sheep enterprise by using sheep to heavily graze pastures prior to sowing, as an alternative to spending money on pre-sowing herbicides or cultivation. He also now does not have to re-establish pastures, which was the practice in the past, because they are rapidly improving.
Darryl Cluff says they use conventional harvesting techniques for their cereals; with the grasses below the crop level, there has been no problem. They have not noticed any significant compaction. In fact, the root systems of the pastures seem to have a 'de-compacting' effect which both counteracts the compaction effects of machinery and stock, and also seems to de-compact previously compacted soil after it's been established for a couple of years.
Both farmers learned that crop establishment is slower in the pasture base, and sow about two weeks earlier than the recommended date. They have observed an increase in red-legged earth mite but feel this will cease to be a problem once the biodiversity of plants and invertebrates increases.
Col Seis is experimenting with the re-sowing of native Paspalidium and Urochloa (previously Brachiaria) species along with crops. The tools are the Scorpion brush seed harvester and Germinator seeder, enabling locally occurring native grass seed to be harvested and re-sown. This innovative equipment (with more to come) was developed by Darryl Cluff, Col Seis and other members of the Barneys Reef Landcare Group, and skilfully transformed into engineering masterpieces in the hands of Doug Seis, Col Seis' cousin.
As with the pasture-cropping model itself, the fine-tuning of the machinery capable of harvesting and re-sowing the often difficult seeds of native grasses and legumes has required much creative effort and testing, devotion to teamwork, countless late nights and the occasional beer.
The vision is to help develop a native grass seed industry which will enable regenerative practices such as the Cluff-Seis technique to be widely used. If native grasses are re-sown with crops, and nurtured via the pasture-cropping technique, millions of hectares of farmed land currently suffering severe soil degradation and dryland salinity problems could be rehabilitated.
Although the current pasture-cropping methodology has been developed for winter cereals, most annual crops would be healthier if sown into permanent, living, ground cover.
Cotton produces one of the world's premium fibres (lint) used for garments, sheeting and threads. It is also the second largest source of oilseed in Australia, second only to canola.
Australian cotton is grown in three regions:
- Central Queensland Region (Emerald and Dawson-Callide districts of Queensland, 7% of production);
- Central Border Region (Macintyre Valley, Darling Downs, St George-Dirranbandi, Namoi Valley and Gwydir Valley districts in Queensland and northern New South Wales, 79% of production);
- Southern Inland Region (Macquarie Valley, Bourke and Southern regions of New South Wales, 14% of production).
Cotton has been grown in Australia since the 1800s, although the modern cotton industry was not born until the 1960s, when the construction of large dams in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland made the development of irrigated production systems in these areas possible. A reliable supply of water, and the arrival of a small group of American cotton growers were the main driving forces behind the growth of irrigated cotton in Australia. Irrigated and dryland production expanded rapidly during the 1980s and 1990s. 1985 production totalled 1.1 million bales while 1998 production was 3 million bales (one bale = 227 kg of cotton lint). Average production for the last three years (1997-2000) is over 3 million bales per annum.
Australian cotton growers consistently achieve the highest yields of any of the world's large cotton producers. For example, in 1999 and 2000, the average yield on Australian farms was 1366 and 1574 kg/ha respectively. Corresponding figures for the United States of America were 725 and 696 kg/ha, and for China, 1064 and 1040 kg/ha. Most of the Australian crop (generally around 90%) is exported. The value of Australian raw cotton exports was $1.7 billion in 1999, and $1.6 billion in 2000.
Irrigation generally trebles the yield of lint and other cotton products.
The industry's major environmental issue relates to its use of pesticides for controlling budworms (Helicoverpa spp.). These pesticides collect in waterways affecting fish, birds and human health. Other issues relate to efficient use of water and fertilisers that may affect the volume and quality of water available downstream.
Table 8.5 Areas of irrigated and dryland cotton production, 1999 and 2000*
|Production system||Area grown
|Irrigated||403 300||402 400|
|Dryland||131 100||59 500|
|Total||534 400||461 900|
* Source: Australian Cotton Grower Yearbook
Practice in the cotton industry
Recognition of key challenges - pesticide use, land use and water use - arose through an industry-wide environmental audit and appropriate best management practices were developed (Williams et al. 2000). Adoption of these practices across country is progressing very well. Research and extension are targeted to ensure comprehensive adoption. Direct expenditure on research and extension aimed at improving environmental sustainability, is almost $6 million each year from Cotton Research and Development Corporation funds.
The Australian cotton industry Best Management Practices Manual (Williams et al. 2000) was developed out of a joint research between the Cotton Research and Development Corporation, Land & Water Australia and the Murray-Darling Basin Commission.
The Best Management Practices Manual outlines the principles, purpose and benefits of best management practice and the need for 'due diligence'. The manual is in its second edition and incorporates extra information on pesticide storage and handling, farm hygiene, human safety, and dryland cotton production. It also contains extensive information updated from edition 1 of the manual on management strategies for:
- applying pesticides;
- integrated pest management; and
- farm design and management.
Each area covered in the Best Management Practices Manual contains:
- risk assessment - self assessment worksheets that help cotton growers identify and assess the risks relating to practices on their farm;
- best management practice booklets - these provide detailed information on best management practices for issues highlighted through self assessment; and
- action plans - cotton growers are required to develop action plans to address areas of identified risk; action plans focus on the implementation of best management practices recommended in the best management practice booklets.
The Best Management Practices Manual provides a flexible way for cotton growers to manage their farming operations so that they minimise environmental risks associated with pesticide use and is serving as the foundation for a comprehensive environmental management program. It provides a range of potential benefits, including:
- the ability to maintain a degree of industry control over the management of natural resources;
- ways to ensure access to markets in the event of increased demand for cotton produced in an 'environmentally responsible' manner; and
- reduction of on-farm costs.
COTTON INITIATIVE - BEST MANAGEMENT PRACTICE IN ACTION
The Australian Cotton Industry Best Management Practices program has been developed to help cotton growers manage and improve their farming operations and minimise environmental impacts.
Rogate Farms is an irrigated cropping enterprise near Boggabilla in the Macintyre Valley of northern New South Wales. The farm has 1116 ha of irrigated cultivation and cotton is the principal crop. The farm manager and five other full-time workers have taken a proactive approach to innovation by applying research in practical ways.
The major farming and resource issues for Rogate Farms are the same as those facing most other cotton-growing enterprises:
- minimising use of chemicals in insect management programs;
- maintaining and improving soil health; and
- maximising water use efficiency.
Adoption of and ongoing commitment to the cotton industry voluntary Best Management Practices program is producing significant on-farm benefits to operations in these three resource areas.
Rogate Farms adopted the Best Management Practices program in 1998 and has successfully completed the first two audits (initial and compliance). A certification audit will take place in August 2001.
A key element of the Best Management Practices process is the identification and assessment of farm risks. Worksheets in the Best Management Practices manual assist growers to assess their farm operations and subsequently develop and implement action plans. For Rogate Farms, the risk identification and assessment process resulted in a number of capital improvements.
Enlarging the tail water return has increased irrigation system capacity and allows all water on the farm to be recycled. In conjunction with other farm-design initiatives this system also minimises the environmental impact of storm events by increasing control of run-off flows. In the field, water use is monitored throughout the season. Analysis of the data collected during the 2000/01 season revealed that Ingard© cotton (genetically modified varieties) grown on Rogate Farms produced 1.4 bales of cotton per megalitre of water, compared to 1.3 bales per megalitre for conventional cotton varieties - a productivity gain of around 7%. Conventional varieties took slightly longer to mature and needed one more irrigation than the Ingard crops.
The introduction of Ingard varieties has facilitated the widespread adoption of integrated pest management strategies in the cotton industry. This management philosophy suggests that effective control of insect pests can be facilitated by encouraging natural agents including predators, parasites and viruses. The practical implementation of this 'softer' approach to pest management by Rogate Farms includes placing Ingard cotton in sensitive areas (e.g. along property boundaries and near waterways). Some early season insect damage to the crops is tolerated as research has shown that cotton plants can compensate for early losses. Improved farm productivity has been a tangible benefit of the integrated pest management program with farm records showing significant reductions in pesticide use and therefore input costs achieved during the past five years.
Farm productivity can be significantly affected by soil health. On Rogate Farms beneficial elements within the soil are an important consideration for the overall disease management plan. One innovation has been trial of vetch as a rotation crop to cotton. Rather than being harvested, the vetch is worked into the soil as a green manure. This is based on research showing that vetch could fumigate the soil and help with disease control, particularly Black Root Rot. An added bonus is that vetch can fix a significant amount of nitrogen, reducing the need to apply nitrogen fertilisers. In last season's field trial, strips that had no additional nitrogen fertilisers produced a cotton crop of 7.2 bales per hectare, comparing favourably to other strips in the field which had 115 units of nitrogen applied to the soil and yielded 8.3 bales per hectare.
Farm hygiene plays an important role in maintaining soil health by preventing the spread of disease and is a key element of the Best Management Practices program. Central to the diseases management strategy on Rogate Farms has been the installation of an improved wash down facility and establishment of several disease management units. A number of soil-borne diseases can be transported from field to field and farm to farm in mud and dust on vehicles, equipment and footwear and thorough cleaning is required to prevent this.
The practical strategies and flexible guidelines outlined in the industry's Best Management Practices program have had a significant and beneficial impact on the operations of Rogate Farms and many other cotton properties. Improved resource management is occurring on a broad scale as a result of this program, with an even broader range of beneficiaries.
The best management practice program is successful because it is:
- industry led;
- strongly supported by external organisations;
- simple to use, with clear and achievable objectives;
- focused on practical issues; and
- promoting gradual implementation.
The best management practice program includes an audit scheme for cotton growers (by independent assessors) on their adoption and compliance of the best management practice , as well as, implementation of specific best management practices. These independent auditors are required to have a background in cotton production and must complete an 'Environmental Systems' Auditing Course, specifically tailored to the Best Management Practices Manual.
By June 2001, 145 cotton growers had been audited on their compliance with the Best Management Practices Manual. Regional levels of adoption of the principles in the Best Management Practices Manual varies (Table 8.6).
Improved resource management is occurring on a broad scale as a result of this program (see case study example of the significant and beneficial impact of the industry guidelines).
Future directions of best management practice will include management of:
- land and water;
- vegetation and biodiversity;
- waste; and
The best management practice program also recommends that growers keep up to date with current Australian Cotton Cooperative Research Centre extension materials (e.g. SPRAYpak, ENTOpak, SOILpak, MACHINEpak, NUTRIpak).
Table 8.6 Level of adoption (%) of the industry's best management practice manual by regional cotton growers.
|Audit stage||Australia total||Northern region||Central Border
|Number of growers||112||1 006||162|
|No progress / don't know (%)||17||46||13||19|
|Audit ready (%)||12||12||11||16|
|2nd Best Management Practices Manual (%)||70||54||79||26|
The sugar industry produces sucrose - refined to give sugar - and some by-products such as molasses and fibre used for composite boards.
Australian sugar is grown mainly along the east coast of Australia in:
- Northern Queensland Region (Mossman, Tableland, Babinda, Mourilyan, Mulgrave, South Johnstone and Tully mill areas);
- Herbert/Burdekin Region (Inkerman, Invicta, Kalamia, Macknade, Pioneer and Victoria mill areas);
- Central Queensland Region (Farleigh, Marian, Plane Creek, Pleystowe, Proserpine and Racecourse mill areas);
- Southern Queensland Region (Bingera, Fairymead, Isis, Maryborough, Millaquin, Moreton and Rocky Point mill areas);
- New South Wales Region (Broadwater, Condong and Harwood mill areas);
A small area of production also exists in the northern Western Australia Region (Ord River mill area).
The sugar industry on farm employs 12,700 people across more than 5,300 properties. The number of cane farmers increased steadily between 1989 and 1999 (from 5% to 22% in different regions of Queensland). The industry generates about $1.2 billion in value each year, with 70% of the refined sugar exported to a wide range of markets.
In 1998, nearly 60% of the sugar area and cane production were located in the Herbert/Burdekin and Central regions of Queensland (Table 8.7). The Ord River Irrigation Area of Western Australia has the advantage of high radiation and plentiful irrigation water. Sugar yields are optimised and controlled in those areas where the cane is irrigated and where sunshine hours are highest.
Major environmental issues for the industry are water-borne soil erosion, chemicals and fertiliser to waterways, with special concern for impacts of outflows to the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon. The industry itself is also concerned about lack of yield increases in many areas. Gains in total productivity within the industry regions relate mostly to increased use of mechanisation and increased scale of operation.
Table 8.7 Regional sugar production.
|Region/mill area||Cane (Mt)||Sugar (kt)||Cane yield (t/ha/year)|
|Herbert/Burdekin Region||12.2||1 610||103|
|Central Region||11.4||1 412||105|
|New South Wales Region||2.5||294||~67*|
|Western Australia Region||0.4||47||126|
Source: Canegrowers Annual Report 1998 and Australian Sugar Year Book 1999.
* New South Wales harvests are generally every two years as opposed to one year crops for other regions. The estimate of 67 t/ha/yr for New South Wales is likely to be an underestimate with some annual cropping in New South Wales.
Practice in the sugar industry
The industry's intensive production areas are located in environmentally sensitive regions, where river systems discharge to the Great Barrier Reef. The areas also have high habitat value such as floodplains, wetlands and estuaries and increasing human populations.
The Queensland sugar industry audit in 1996, identified eight main environmental issues:
- irrigation and drainage;
- soil management for acid sulfate soils;
- the use of minimum tillage during periods of high erosion risk;
- storage of chemicals;
- fertiliser and nutrient management;
- herbicide management;
- waste management; and
- resource conservation.
More recently, extension officers identified a range of issues for each sugar-producing region (Table 8.8) including:
- soil erosion;
- water quality (nutrient exports to rivers);
- soil acidification; and
- salinity (salt wedge intrusion in coastal settings).
In response to the 1996 audit, the industry continues to develop environmental policies , codes and guidelines aimed at minimising environmental impacts. These guidelines are supported by extension and research, enabling informed adoption of technology. Codes of practice developed by the industry include: Sustainable Cane farming in Queensland, Fish Habitat Code of Practice and Best Practice Guidelines for Acid Sulfate Soils.
Adoption of recommended practices from these documents has increased, particularly for those practices that deliver positive environmental and economic outcomes (O'Grady & Christiansen 2000). Rapid adoption of green cane trash blanketing (to protect soil from eroding) is a good example and reflects the flexibility in harvest that green cane techniques provide. Other practices which are progressively improving are: waste disposal of chemicals, slashing techniques for headlands and grassed waterways, tail water drains, record keeping, trash management in ratoon crops and fallow, irrigation scheduling and chemical use and handling (O'Grady & Christiansen 2000). The development of sustainable production systems is highlighted by the research and adoption of surface drainage and nutrient management for canelands on floodplains in the Herbert (See Ripple Creek case study).
Table 8.8 Environmental issues in the sugar industry as identified by regional industry extension officers.
|Erosion in replanting|
|Erosion in ratoon|
|Acid sulphate soils|
|Pest and disease control|
|Reduced oxygen in rivers|
|Salted soils and groundwater|
|Elevated groundwater levels|
INTEGRATED SURFACE DRAINAGE, SEDIMENT AND NUTRIENT MANAGEMENT FOR FLOODPLAIN CANELANDS
A sugar industry case study in the Ripple Creek catchment, Herbert floodplain
John Reghenzani, Bureau of Sugar Experimental Stations (Herbert) and Christian Roth, CSIRO Land and Water (Townsville)
A considerable acreage of sugar cane grown in North Queensland occurs in regions of high rainfall that need effective drainage. The sugar industry seeks to remove excess water within a multi-objective framework recognising the need to minimise any impacts on the high value ecological resources of Queensland (e.g. World Heritage Rainforest, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, estuaries and fish habitats).
Industry need for integrated drainage and management plans has prompted the Sugar Research and Development Corporation, Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations and CSIRO Land and Water to work with industry to provide both productivity and environmental outcomes.
The Herbert region has a pattern of less productivity in high rainfall years with delayed recovery (Figure 8.22). Productivity was further reduced after a succession of wet years. Gross sugar income in the Herbert was $141.9 million less in 2000 than in 1996. The cumulative effect of four recent successive wet years has placed a tremendous strain on farm profitability with flow-on effects to regional businesses and communities.
A series of key practices and activities has been confirmed as delivering the multi-objective production and environmental outcomes that the cane industry is seeking.
- Laser levelling is widely adopted and has an increasingly beneficial effect on yield (7, 11 and 13 t cane/ha over the past three wet years) and has resulted in more even and slower run-off bringing benefits of reduced erosion and less likelihood of low oxygen in discharge water.
- Laser levelling and mounded rows retain nutrients in low-lying areas, increased biomass production and maximised return on investment in fertilisers.
- Drainage design developed from monitoring, surveys and field experimentation specifically tailored to soil types, to minimise erosion on sloping lands and to improve drainage on floodplain lands while meeting key ecological criteria of minimal impact off farm.
- Risk mapping (priorities can be defined using GIS-coupled models, terrain and soil databases) allows targeted implementation of agronomic countermeasures to flooding risks and assists in design of efficient drainage systems that are more suitable as fish habitats.
- Integrated drainage plan and extension packages enable high levels of grower awareness and readiness to adopt improved on-farm drainage practices by providing guidelines that canegrowers can readily adopt to their particular farm, often as part of a local integrated floodplain management scheme.
- Practices to minimise soil loss. Key sources and sinks of sediments and nutrients have been identified using a sediment budget approach; the sediment budget for Ripple Creek has shown a net soil export of 5-6 t/ha, which is low in the context of the high rainfall in 1999/2000. Plant cane fields, water furrows and major drains with steep walls have been identified as key sources of sediments and nutrients leaving cane land. Important management practices increasingly being adopted include green cane harvesting, trash retained on ratoon fields and the use of shallow spoon type drains - trash management is now undertaken in about 90% of the cane area. In addition, trash retention recycles considerable nitrogen, allowing for reduced fertiliser application.
- Refining management practices to reduce sediment and nutrient export by targeting key sediment sources and sinks (e.g. enhancing the trapping efficiencies of headlands and filter strips along drains through improved grass species [Pangola grass, Figure 8.23], increasing ground cover in fallow cane blocks and improving drain design).
These activities are based on a strong partnership between industry and science. The key ingredient for success has been the willingness of cane farmers to link their concerns for increased productivity and reduced environmental impact. Farmers are adopting techniques identified through research, trials and monitoring, ensuring a productive and sustainable future for the cane industry and for the ecology of the Herbert floodplain.
Australia produces a diverse range of annual and perennial horticultural crops, including vegetables, fruits and nuts, and has a well established and expanding viticultural industry. About 100 crop types are produced over more than 80,000 enterprises. The products are mostly used as fresh vegetables (e.g. beans and peas, onions, lettuce and carrots) and fresh fruit (e.g. bananas, apples, pears, peaches and oranges). Some are processed as frozen (peas, beans) or canned (pineapple, peaches), dried (sultanas, apricots) or made into beverages (e.g. wine and fruit juices).
The horticultural industry is distributed across a wide range of environments, but is primarily restricted by access to irrigation water, quality soils and topography. Major production areas are concentrated in fertile regions with high annual rainfall or abundant water for irrigation (Figures 8.24, 8.25). Vegetable production is highly concentrated close to major towns and cities, where domestic water supplies are used.
In 1997, equal areas of annual (mostly vegetables) and perennial (mostly fruit) crops were grown (~136,000 hectares) with the major ones shown in Table 8.9. In 1997, these products were valued at $1,905 million for the annual and $1,719 million for the perennial crops. Much of this production was grown on 164,000 hectares of irrigated land, using 1,640 GL of irrigation water and an average return of $590 per ML of irrigation water.
In 1998/99, Australian horticulture employed more than 93,000 people across 13,865 properties and generated an average farm income of $59,000 for fruit growers and $44,000 for vegetable growers.
Table 8.9 Gross area, volume and value of production of horticultural crop groups.
|Crop group||Area (ha)||Production (tonnes)||Value ($m)|
|Beans & peas||18 040||-||83 260||-||74.6||-|
|Brassicas||13 910||-||181 730||-||152.6||-|
|Cucurbits||9 340||-||116 910||-||74.9||-|
|Leaf vegetables||6 040||-||160 120||-||115.8||-|
|Melons||7 710||-||163 370||-||91.2||-|
|Onions & garlic||5 630||-||205 070||-||107.7||-|
|Peppers||1 880||-||32 220||-||40.6||-|
|Potatoes||45 450||-||1 393 660||-||489.3||-|
|Root vegetables||9 880||317 930||-||177.1||-|
|Sweet corn||5 430||-||64 790||-||26.5||-|
|Tomatoes||8 830||-||393 120||-||176.9||-|
|Asparagus||-||2 140||-||7 884||-||37.5|
|Bananas||-||11 610||-||199 580||-||216.6|
|Berry fruit||-||1 624||-||13 140||-||68.4|
|Citrus||-||30 400||-||645 260||-||391.8|
|Nuts||-||19 750||-||23 440||-||101.9|
|Pome fruit||-||18 690||-||940 470||-||513.0|
|Stone fruit||-||26 910||-||151 824||-||216.2|
|Tropical fruit||-||24 710||-||186 370||-||174.0|
|Total||136 810||136 574||3 112 180||2 168 558||1 905.4||1 719.4|
N/A data not available
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics 1997.
Most horticultural products are aimed towards the Australia's domestic markets, with less than 20% being exported. At least a third of the harvested asparagus, Chinese cabbage, strawberries and cauliflower are exported. In 1996/97, export earnings totalled $577 million and were dominated by citrus.
Productivity and sustainability: key findings
The Audit in partnership with the Horticulture Research and Development Corporation commissioned and published an assessment of Australia's diverse horticultural industries (HRDC & NLWRA 2001).
Improved environmental performance is under way across all crop groups with industry changes being driven by:
- new and revised codes of practice (best management practices and quality assurance standards);
- an increasing focus on integrated solutions to pest and disease management;
- improvements to the structure, management and planning of industry organisations;
- greater investment in environmental research and development projects on an enterprise and regional basis; and
- specific development of industry awareness programs.
Not all crop groups and regions are progressing at the same rate, with the larger professionally managed groups (e.g. Queensland Fruit and Vegetable Growers) being typically further advanced than others. However the process of cultural change and improved environmental performance is evolving. Strong signals for improved environmental management from the marketplace or from legislation are not common. As these signals strengthen, incentive for greater grower adoption will increase. Weakness in environmental performance relates to:
- poor linkages between programs (particularly research and development and codes of practice)
- poor and inadequate industry databases for monitoring environmental and economic performance and for preparing regional environmental plans; and
- the lack of resources and skills in some crop groups to adopt better practices.
Perennial crop groups are generally better prepared for improved environmental performance than annual crop groups.
FARMCARE AND SUSTAINABLE FRUIT AND VEGETABLE PRODUCTION IN QUEENSLAND
Queensland's fruit and vegetable producers have taken a proactive approach to responsible environmental management and sustainable development. Through its Environment Program, Queensland Fruit & Vegetable Growers Ltd has played an important role facilitating industry activities.
Our achievements to date include the development of the Farmcare Code of Practice for Sustainable Fruit and Vegetable Production in Queensland. Our Code of Practice was launched in 1998 following two years of intensive work collecting ideas on environmental best practice from over 500 growers and a number of other horticultural and environmental specialists. Farmcare provides guidelines for the sound management of land and soils, water, biodiversity, air, noise and waste and integrated crop management. By following the Code of Practice, growers are able to demonstrate their due diligence under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld).
Farmcare has been distributed to all fruit and vegetable growers throughout Queensland and to many stakeholders in the horticulture industry as well. A total of 8,000 copies have been distributed to date and Farmcare has recently been made available in CD-ROM format. To maximise awareness and adoption, the code of practice was launched by the Queensland Environment Minister and has been actively promoted at field days, workshops, commodity conferences and in industry journals. Farmcare training has also been incorporated into the natural resource management module of the Futureprofit in Horticulture integrated workshop series. Adoption of Farmcare practices is understood to be very high across all commodities.
The code of practice would be highly applicable and relevant to horticultural production systems across Australia and strong interest in Farmcare has been shown in other States, particularly in Victoria and New South Wales.
While the Farmcare Code of Practice provides valuable guidelines for fruit and vegetable growers, the Queensland horticulture industry still faces serious environmental challenges. Ongoing research, management innovation and commitment will be required to:
- refine integrated pest management techniques;
- balance production requirements with native vegetation retention needs;
- protect crops from damage by native wildlife;
- improve water use efficiency and maintain access to increasingly expensive and limited water resources;
- manage the good neighbour interface between the industry and protected or world heritage areas;
- protect downstream land and water ecosystems from impacts generated by fruit and vegetable production;
- develop meaningful links to regionally driven natural resource management planning; and
- respond to a tightening regulatory framework for property and natural resource management.
Optimising grower access to information about environmental issues and management options and establishing processes to monitor and report industry progress towards sustainability will also be important.
To address these needs and build on our successes with Farmcare, and to maintain momentum towards a more sustainable fruit and vegetable industry in Queensland, Queensland Fruit & Vegetable Growers Ltd conducted an Environment Forum in June 2000 with financial support from the Sustainable Industries Division of the Queensland Environmental Protection Agency.
Participants in the forum included representatives from most commodity groups in Queensland Fruit & Vegetable Growers Ltd and other stakeholders in the horticulture industry. The aim of the forum was to consider emerging opportunities for environmental management in Queensland's horticulture industry and to chart out future directions for Queensland Fruit & Vegetable Growers Ltd in facilitating the sustainable development of the industry. Queensland Fruit & Vegetable Growers Ltd then conducted meetings in growing regions across the state to seek feedback on, and support for, the action plan developed at the forum.
The 2000 Environment Forum and regional meetings were highly successful. Growers across Queensland demonstrated a strong interest in environmental issues and recognised the need for continual improvement in environmental management.
In response to this feedback, Queensland Fruit & Vegetable Growers Ltd now aims to expand its environment program. Investigating the application of Environmental Management Systems in horticulture was identified as a key priority. A case study has been established with banana growers in North Queensland to trial the use in horticultural operations of the AS/NZS ISO 14001 standard for Environmental Management Systems. Case studies in other growing regions and commodities are also proposed. Should the case studies show that Environmental Management Systems provides a useful framework for growers and delivers improved environmental performance, Queensland Fruit & Vegetable Growers Ltd will develop a program to support and facilitate widespread adoption of this approach.
Queensland Fruit & Vegetable Growers Ltd hopes to attract a number of co-investors to support other components of an expanded Environment Program, including:
- maintenance of a project to deliver improved pest management strategies for horticultural industries;
- an annual Environment Forum;
- development of industry-wide natural resource and environmental management strategies;
- development of a 'Sustainability Toolkit' of on-farm environmental management tools;
- investigation of property and industry-level environmental monitoring and reporting tools; and
- communication and promotion of environmental issues within the industry and to consumers and stakeholders.
Through its Environment Program, Queensland Fruit & Vegetable Growers Ltd aims to continue to support its members in their commitment to meet the challenges of a greener future. In our work, we will focus on developing a thorough understanding of the environmental impacts and risks of horticulture in Queensland; tools and strategies that assist growers to protect the environment; and methods for monitoring and reporting our progress towards sustainability.
Much industry-sponsored research is directed at soil issues including:
- soil loss;
- chemical accumulations;
- organic matter and soil structural decline;
- nutrient levels; and
Integrated pest and disease management research is also in progress for the larger horticulture industries. Other areas of research include: spray management, waste disposal, and research of water, salt, salinity and riparian issues within horticultural catchments.
Industry development and sustainability
The horticultural industry is generally ahead of other industries on quality assurance and equal with other industries for environmental management practice. However, its fragmented and multi-commodity nature creates barriers for introducing environmental initiatives. Variation between State legislative requirements inhibits a national approach to better environmental performance. This is not confined to horticulture and is a key issue across all commodities and their support agencies.
Implementing indicators to assess progress towards sustainable environmental management requires a substantial change among managers. Low grower membership of industry organisations is a limitation, creating difficulties for promoting industry-wide changes in practice.
Future industry expansion will be constrained by access to viable markets rather than by environmental limitations. Although accountability for food safety and environmental compliance will be increasingly important to future markets, the complexity of industry organisational structures inhibits close liaison and coordinated planning.
Access to resources (especially water) is considered the key industry risk. However the relatively high water use efficiency of many horticultural crops, compared with other irrigated agriculture, means that horticulture is well-placed to compete for increasingly expensive water entitlements.
Future industry expansion will be based on market requirements and access to water resources. The scale of horticultural investments is likely to increase in the future, as technology and plant breeding become more integrated with consumer markets and supply chains serving domestic and export markets. Given that the existing horticultural industry is only equivalent in total area to the Australian Capital Territory, land is not expected to be a limiting factor. Wherever expansion does occur, it will probably be achieved through the re-allocation to horticulture of existing agricultural land rather than clearing of new land.
Technology will be increasingly important to expansion of horticultural industries by providing rapid access to information on markets and innovations, and assistance in farm management and environmental practice.
DAIRY INDUSTRY: DAIRYING FOR TOMORROW
National industry profile
Australian dairy production systems are dominated by pasture grazing with herds also receiving grain and fodder supplements. With the exception of inland irrigation schemes, dairy pastures depend heavily on natural rainfall, although in most regions at least some supplementary irrigation is now being used. Dryland dairying areas are mainly located in the high rainfall, coastal and adjacent areas (Figure 8.26).
In 1998/99, over 60% of Australia's dairy farms (Figure 8.27), dairying herds and milk production were located in Victoria. Fourteen percent of the national dairy farms were located in New South Wales, 12% in Queensland, 6% in Tasmania, 5% in South Australia and 3% in Western Australia. Over 34,000 people are employed on 13,900 dairy properties.
During the last 25 years, the number of dairy farms has declined consistently (from around 30,630 in 1974/75 to 13,880 in 1999/2000); the size of the national dairy herd has remained reasonably constant. The volume of milk produced has increased strongly to over twice that produced in 1980/81 (Figure 8.28).
Milk is produced for direct human consumption (market milk) and for the production of dairy products (manufacturing milk). The increased production of milk in Australia (Figure 8.28) has led to strong growth in the manufacturing milk sector of the industry (Figure 8.29), fuelled by increasing domestic consumption of milk based products and increased export sales. Approximately 18% of total production is used for market milk and 82% for manufacturing (~8.9 billion litres). About two-thirds of the dairy products from manufacturing milk are now exported.
In 1999/2000, 10.8 billion litres of milk were produced, with a gross value of $2,853 million, of which $1,991 million was derived from the manufacturing milk sector (Figure 8.29).
In the period between 1979/80 and 1999/2000, the gross value for manufacturing milk more than doubled in constant dollars, but the value of market milk remained roughly constant in real terms.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Commonwealth and State governments regulated milk production, fixing a price for a guaranteed amount of milk to be supplied for direct consumption of market milk. Manufacturing milk was sold at an unregulated price (generally well below that for market milk) and produced products such as cheeses and milk powders.
From 1 July 2000, the regulations in each State were removed, introducing a free market for the supply of all milk. Farmers relying on the sale of premium priced market milk, were faced with a severe and immediate challenge on farm profitability. To assist the industry during this transition, the Commonwealth government introduced the Dairy Industry Adjustment Package.
In the same way, Australian dairy manufacturing companies are now also restructuring, adapting their operations to remain internationally competitive.
Australian dairy industry survey 2000
With the support of the Australian Dairy Farmers Federation, Australian Dairy Products Federation, Dairy Research and Development Corporation and the Audit, over 1800 of Australian dairy farmers (representing all dairying environments), were interviewed by phone to develop regional perspectives on:
- profiles for the operations and productivity of dairy farming systems;
- current practices and attitudes for managing dairying environments; and
- best management practices needed for sustaining dairy farm income and natural resources.
From this survey, a picture of the 'average' dairy farm and farmer was developed (see box).
The average Australian dairy farm
(assembled from across the eight dairy regions of Australia)
- The average dairy farm has 120 ha of milking area, 190 cows, produces 910,000 litres of milk each year, at 4,600 L/cow. Production of milk per hectare averages 9400 L/year.
- The average dairy farmer is 49 years old and has been in the industry for 29 years.
- 70% of dairy farmers considered they would still be dairying in five years time; 55% indicated they intended to pass the farm over their children; 80% considered their farm would still be used for dairying in five years time.
- 57% of all dairy farms have at least some irrigation (especially those with higher stocking rates and larger herds).
- 90% of farms buy in feed (especially farms with high production levels) averaging 1.4 tonnes/cow/year.
- 97% of farms use fertilisers; 80% use soil tests as an aid to determining fertiliser needs and 43% adopt special measures to limit nutrient loss.
- 80% of farms have effluent management systems; 79% re-use effluent, with 57% via irrigation.
- 57% of farms with waterways have fenced off all or most of the streams.
- 40% of farmers attend farm discussion groups, 31% were in Landcare and 30% have a written farm plan.
- 47% of dairy farmers cited lack of money or finance as the main constraint to improving environmental management.
Regional dairy industry profiles
Dairying farms are found in eight regions of Australia (see Figures 8.30), from subtropical areas in the north to cooler temperate regions of southern Australia. On-farm statistics differed between regions (Table 8.10 and Figure 8.30).
- The Gippsland region contained the smallest average dairy milking area (97 ha). The West Australian region averaged the largest farms (199 ha).
- Average stocking rates were highest in the Murray (2.2 cows/ha) and lowest in Western Australia (1.1 cows/ha).
- Farms in the Sub-Tropical region had the lowest herd size (138) and farms in Western Victoria the largest (226 cows).
- Average annual milk production per cow was highest in Western Australia (5,489 litres/cow) and lowest in Tasmania (4,013 litres/cow).
- Average milk produced annually (litres per hectare) varied from 6,000 (Sub-Tropical region) to over 10,000 L/ha (Murray region).
Table 8.10 Dairy region production statistics.
|West Victoria dairy||143.4||1.6||226||4 323|
|Gippsland dairy||97.0||2.0||192||4 299|
|Murray dairy||112.5||2.2||207||4 702|
|Dairy Industry Development Company||110.8||1.7||159||4 886|
|Subtropical dairy||131.5||1.4||137||4 080|
|Dairy Tasmania||112.8||2.0||219||4 013|
|Dairy Western Australia||199.1||1.1||200||5 489|
|Dairy South Australia||143.8||1.8||188||5 398|
The dairy industry has a heavy industry reliance on irrigation to boost pasture and fodder production (Figure 8.31):
- 25% of farms flood irrigate;
- 29% use spray or sprinklers;
- 3% use both; and
- 43% use no irrigation.
Where flood irrigation is used, 75% of farm of the farm is irrigated, averaging 6.1 ML water per ha, and 2.6 ML/cow. On average, 80% of flood irrigated farms have a 'tail-water' re-use system and 95% have farms that are at least partly laser graded; 60% have laser graded more than half of the farm.
Where spray irrigation is used, 16% of farm is irrigated, averaging 4.3 ML water use per ha, and 0.9 ML/cow.
Expenditure on feed supplements (Figure 8.32) and fertilisers (Figure 8.33) is on average high. The quantity of feed supplements fed per cow varies between regions. Expenditure on fertilisers varies substantially both within and between dairying regions.
Table 8.11 Irrigation statistics for in dairy industry regions.
|Region||% of farms
|% of irrigating
|% of irrigating
|West Victoria dairy||25||34||16||89||4.5||0.9|
|Dairy Industry Development Company||57||49||5||98||4.5||1.4|
|Dairy Western Australia||42||41||92||13||9.5||2.1|
|Dairy South Australia||71||46||27||86||5.4||1.3|
Dairy industry's attitude to resource degradation
Nationally, around 50% of dairy farmers surveyed considered dairying in their regions was having minimal impact on land and water degradation. Over 30% considered 'environmentally friendly farming' in their regions would reduce farm profits. These were fairly consistent results across all regions (Figure 8.34).
Recognising and responding to resource challenges
The health and condition of dairy farm soils is vital for feed production and for minimising any off-farm impacts from farming activities. The national survey (Figure 8.35) indicated a strong awareness of soil health issues by farmers, and when recognised, they responded by adopting best management practices to contain or overcome them (see descriptions below). However, with 28% of farmers reporting no land management problems there is a question as to whether all soil health issues are recognised by farmers.
- 28% of farmers reported no major land management problems affecting their property.
- 36% reported wet soils or pugging.
78% of those with wet soils use 'on-off' grazing, 76% do not graze wet areas.
- 33% reported soil acidity.
90% of those with acidity problems soil test for soil pH; 83% apply lime.
- 30% reported soil structure or compaction.
73% of those with poor soil structure adopt conservation tillage; 72% deep rip and 73% changed their grazing management.
- 16% reported erosion potential.
91% of those with soil erosion risks have permanent pastures; 84% avoid cultivation at high-risk times; 69% adopt conservation tillage and revegetate.
- 15% reported irrigation-induced salinity.
80% of those with irrigation-induced salinity installed drainage; 70% adopted improved irrigation practices.
Weeds invasion and their management were also given high priority by the industry, which supports concerns listed by the sheep/wool and beef cattle industries.
High concentrations of waste are generated where dairy cows congregate in high numbers (e.g. around milking sheds).
- 80% of dairy farms have an effluent management system (Figure 8.36).
Pond systems are the most common form of effluent management (54%), while 27% of farms use a sump and dispersal system.
- 79% re-use effluent, 57% of them via irrigation.
- More than 80% of dairy farmers have constructed a system to collect and manage effluent from dairy sheds. Farms without formal effluent systems tended to be less intensive and used lower stocking rates.
- The use of feed supplements has increased the use of feeding pads, with nearly 20% of all farms now using them. Of those farmers, more than 30% have an effluent management system.
- Calving pads were reported on 27% of farms, with nearly half (45%) managing the effluent by way of dry litter. Sump or pond management systems are used by a further 13%.
- Run-off from laneways is collected in 25% of farms, with a third directing it to a pond system for use in irrigation.
- Overall, nearly 80% of farms re-use their effluent, with more than half doing so by way of irrigation.
Vegetation and waterway management
The ability of dairy farms to support native vegetation and wildlife varies between regional environments and with farming systems. However, the management of any remnant native vegetation, creeks and stream banks can enhance the property's contribution to biodiversity. Well-maintained waterways can also help minimise potential impacts off-farm.
- 64% of dairy farms have some remnant vegetation.
- Of those with remnant native vegetation, 36% have fenced off all or most of it.
- Of those with waterways, 57% have fenced off all or most of the stream.
- 56% have undertaken revegetation, (primarily for shade or shelter).
A number of these activities provide broad benefit to the community, possibly ahead of benefits to the individual who must invest time and money in the works and their maintenance.
Fencing remnant vegetation and waterways, and revegetating was associated with having a farm plan, being a member of a Landcare group, having a positive expectation for a future in dairying and being younger.
The level of investment that farmers are prepared to make in their properties is influenced by a number of factors.
- 47% see the lack of money or finance as the main constraint to improved environmental management.
- 44% see the lack of money or finance as the main constraint to increased productivity (with a further 16% citing low milk prices).
To improve farm productivity, farmers nominated better pasture management, more use of fertilisers, enhanced irrigation and improved dairy milking sheds. Planting more trees was seen as the single most beneficial means to improve the environment.
The Australian dairy industry is vital to the national economy, providing domestic milk and dairy products and valuable export earnings. Dairying also generates considerable regional employment and economic activity. It is undergoing rapid restructuring through milk market deregulation, but the industry considers itself to be viable in the long term.
Dairying is an intensive grazing industry, centred mainly in higher rainfall catchments, and irrigation areas, which necessitates high levels of environmental management. Water is a key resource input and as a consequence, the industry will seek to increase their participation in the design and implementation of regional, catchment and waterway management to responsibly contribute to regional environmental needs.
The industry also seeks sustainable growth into the future. To achieve this it must simultaneously optimise production, profitability and environmental benefits and outcomes.
Australia's dairy industry is committed to adopting best management practices and modern decision support tools to recognise and resolve problems and to achieve the synergy required to build a greater industry capacity.
Through the Audit's partnership with the Australian dairy industry, greater awareness of industry and natural resource management issues and knowledge gaps were exposed. These new findings will now be used to frame and implement national and regional strategies and action plans including more targeted research, development and education. The strategies will resolve regional issues within the industry and deal with national natural resource management risks. It will focus on:
- improving productivity and profitability;
- protecting and enhancing on-farm resources; and
- minimising off-farm environmental impacts.
As the dairy industry intensifies to meet the challenges of deregulation, it is important that natural resource management issues are incorporated in on-farm development. Support to incorporate natural resources considerations at the design stage is imperative.
WHOLE FARM PLAN PAYS DIVIDENDS
Using farm plans to increase production
Roelands Western Australian dairy farmer Paul Clarke has taken his dairy herd from 130 to 200 milkers in eight years without adding to his land holding and reckons he has 'another 100 cows to go' before he reaches maximum carrying capacity.
He singles out his decision in 1993 to develop a whole farm plan and acquire a detailed farm map that included contours and gradients, as the driver behind this dramatic growth in productivity.
Paul, who farms a 150 ha dairy farm and 40 ha run-off block in partnership with his wife Nicole and parents Eddie and Lillian, says the farm contour map made him 'look at his farm as he had never seen it before'.
'I just hadn't realised the levels in some of the paddocks, but the map showed us that we could create open drains to shift water that we previously had thought was impossible to shift without a huge amount of excavator work,' Paul says.
By referring to the contour map (Paul says there isn't a week that goes by, almost eight years later, when a family member does not refer to this map), they were able to make informed drainage decisions and approximately 1.5 km of open drains were installed.
'We were always going to address productivity by developing a better drainage system, but we estimate that we would have spent close to double the money using drainage pathways that we had incorrectly thought were the right ones, prior to the contour map showing us otherwise.'
The next phase in the farm's development was the establishment of a new dairy (more centrally located) and associated laneways, again taking into consideration the fall of the land and the associated soil types and the dirt excavated during the drainage program was put to good use in building up laneways.
But perhaps the most pronounced productivity gains came from the subsurface drainage program, introduced initially on a 10 ha plot in an area most prone to waterlogging.
Paul Clarke with wife Nicole and son Jack, of Roelands, Western Australia
Irrigation offers opportunities for agricultural intensification, greatly enhanced yields and the substitution of low value crops with higher value enterprises. Without irrigation, a significant proportion of Australia's agricultural industries would either not exist or be greatly diminished
Irrigated agriculture occupies about 1% of Australia's agricultural land. Just under half of the water applied is used to irrigate pastures and fodder crops (~8,000 GL), particularly in Victoria and New South Wales. About two thirds of Australia's agricultural production from irrigation is derived from the Murray - Darling Basin, producing rice, cotton, cereals, soybean, fruit and vegetable crops (see Changing face of agriculture section of this report). Outside the Basin, irrigation is used mainly for dairy pastures, seed, fodder, cereal and horticultural crops and sugar cane production.
The gross value returns from irrigated agriculture in 1996/97 were estimated to be $7.3 billion, or 26% of the total gross value of production derived from Australian agriculture (ABS 2000).
In the 40 years since 1955, the area of irrigated agricultural land in Australia has quadrupled to 2.06 million hectares. In 1996/97, a total of 18,000 GL of irrigation water were applied (NLWRA 2001a).
Irrigation water comes as either regulated or non-regulated diversions of water from rivers, dams and lakes, ground water reserves and from surface harvested water stored on farms.
Irrigation scheduling (the frequency and volumes of water applied at each irrigation event) attempts to match water application with plant water requirements. The amount of water that plants require is determined by interactions between the crop being irrigated, the soil type (particularly its water holding capacity) and local weather conditions experienced during the growing season.
Water can be applied by many different irrigation techniques including:
- gravity fed surface furrow and border check systems;
- overhead and under-tree sprinklers;
- micro-jets; and
- trickle irrigation systems.
At the farm scale, records of water volumes applied are either poorly documented or inaccessible. The box (p. 299) provides average data sourced from recent farm surveys, and indicates that in any irrigation region, water applications vary appreciably. Rice crops, because they pond water for significant times, use the most water per hectare.
A national framework of terms and definitions for water use efficiency in Australian irrigation has been determined (Barrett Purcell & Associates 1999). Further work on gaining acceptance of this framework is under way (Aquatech Consulting and Naturally Resourceful).
Surveys reporting the volume of irrigation water
Recent farm surveys reporting the volume of irrigation water applied to different land uses in Australia
1. Topp & Danzi (1998)
Changes to areas under irrigation
About 45% of the total area irrigated in Australia is located in New South Wales, 27% in Victoria, nearly 20% in Queensland, 5% in South Australia, and less than 3% in Western Australia and Tasmania (Figure 8.37)
- Most of the increase in irrigated areas have occurred in New South Wales and Queensland (Figure 8.37).
- Regions where irrigation increased during this time frame by more than 10,000 hectares include Burdekin, (Queensland), Warren, Carrathool, Wakool and Hay in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area (New South Wales).
- Narrabri, Moree and Waggamba in northern New South Wales also had increases of 7,000 or more hectares.
- The larger increases were usually associated with major rivers such as the Murrumbidgee, Lachlan, McIntyre, Barwon, Macquarie, Burdekin and the Daly.
- The most significant decreases occurred in the regions of Gippsland, Mildura and Gannawarra in Victoria, of Singleton/Hawkesbury, Richmond, Copmanhurst and Lismore in New South Wales, and of Paroo in Queensland.
Between 1983/84 to 1996/97, the total area of irrigated commodity groups increased by 26% (Table 8.12). The largest increase in both actual and relative terms, was due mostly to cotton (314,956 ha in 1996/97) and sugar cane (201,000 ha in 1996/97).
Table 8.12 Total area ('000 ha) of commodity groups in Australia that were irrigated in 1983/84 and 1996/97.
|Commodity group||1983/84||1996/97||Increase ('000 ha)||Increase (%)|
|Total||1 625||2 056||431||26.5|
* 'Other crops' comprise mainly cotton, sugar cane and soybean.
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Other significant changes that occurred in the use of irrigated agricultural land between the 1980s and 1990s were:
- Irrigated pastures in southern New South Wales and Victoria, mostly used for dairying, still constituted the main irrigated land use in Australia; the largest increases occurred in south-east corner of the continent and in northern Tasmania.
- About 80% of irrigated cereals existed in New South Wales, with between one third to a half of the area being under rice. The largest increases in area were in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. Areas of irrigated cereals, other than rice, have decreased.
- Irrigation of fruit increased in all States. Major regions of growth were in South East and Riverland regions (South Australia), Griffith (New South Wales), Huon Valley (Tasmania), Margaret River (Western Australia) and tropical regions in Queensland.
- Irrigated vegetables increased in area (Figure 8.38, Table 8.12), with large increases occurring in the Burdekin and Margaret River regions. Areas of decrease existed in New South Wales, and Tasmania.
- Collectively, the irrigated areas of cotton, sugar cane and soybean (plus other crops), mainly produced in Queensland and New South Wales, now make up the second largest area of irrigated agriculture (Figure 8.38, Table 8.12).
Angus J.F. 2001, 'Nitrogen supply and demand in Australian agriculture', Australian Journal of Experimental Agriculture vol. 41, pp. 277-88.
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Chapman L., Boero Rodriguez V. & Jennings J. 1998, 'Cotton: preliminary survey results for the New South Wales industry', Australian Farming Surveys Report 1998, pp. 34-8.
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