Environment

Murray-Darling water use increased even as basin dried out, ABS says

murray-darling-water-use-increased-even-as-basin-dried-out-abs-says

Farmers in the Murray-Darling Basin increased their land under irrigation and water use during the last financial year even as the region endured its second-driest period since 1943, data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show.

While cotton had a bumper year with the value of its 2017-18 national crop jumping 49 per cent to $2.5 billion, separate ABS figures show, the industry estimates irrigation shrank by half during 2018-19 and will decrease as much again in 2019-20.

Cotton farms in February near Warren.

Cotton farms in February near Warren.Credit:Jeremy Buckingham

The Murray-Darling Basin accounted for about 70 per cent of agricultural water use nationally in 2017-18. About 1.5 million hectares in the region were irrigated, up 8 per cent on the year earlier. Some 6.8 trillion litres were used on farms, a rise of 7 per cent, the ABS said.

Cotton farms in the basin alone used 2.505 trillion litres of water on 320,000 hectares of land, both up about 4 per cent from 2016-17.

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Other farms using more water included those growing pasture and cereals, up 26 per cent to 1.2 trillion litres use on 8 per cent more land, or 395,000 hectares.

The extra water use came during the basin's hottest year on record for both the financial year and 2018 itself, with daytime temperatures more than two degrees above the 1961-90 average, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

Rainfall for the basin averaged 339.8 millimetres – the least since 2002 during the Millennium Drought and the second-driest since 1943.

Water issues have flared during the federal election campaign, with renewed interest in the sale of water during Barnaby Joyce's time as agriculture minister to a company co-founded and directed by Energy Minister Angus Taylor until the latter entered Parliament in 2013.

Maryanne Slattery, a water analyst with The Australia Institute, said the increased irrigation during 2017-18 as the region dried out "makes you wonder if the cap agreed to limit use to 1993-94 levels of development had been exceeded".

A report Ms Slattery released in March estimated irrigation for northern basin cotton this year would take as much as 1.1 trillion litres with a further trillion litres lost from evaporation. That compared to 40 billion litres flowing past the NSW town of Bourke and about 11 billion litres reaching Wilcannia on the Darling River.

Cotton Australia expects the amount of cotton picked to drop to 431,000 tonnes in 2018-19, down from 954,000 tonnes in 2017-18. Output will sink to about 222,460 tonnes next year.

“If we dont see any significant rainfall in the coming months, unfortunately our growers will face the harsh reality of a further reduced crop next season," Cotton Australia's chief executive, Adam Kay, said.

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Environment

Murray-Darling water use increased even as basin dried out, ABS says

murray-darling-water-use-increased-even-as-basin-dried-out-abs-says

Farmers in the Murray-Darling Basin increased their land under irrigation and water use during the last financial year even as the region endured its second-driest period since 1943, data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show.

While cotton had a bumper year with the value of its 2017-18 national crop jumping 49 per cent to $2.5 billion, separate ABS figures show, the industry estimates irrigation shrank by half during 2018-19 and will decrease as much again in 2019-20.

Cotton farms in February near Warren.

Cotton farms in February near Warren.Credit:Jeremy Buckingham

The Murray-Darling Basin accounted for about 70 per cent of agricultural water use nationally in 2017-18. About 1.5 million hectares in the region were irrigated, up 8 per cent on the year earlier. Some 6.8 trillion litres were used on farms, a rise of 7 per cent, the ABS said.

Cotton farms in the basin alone used 2.505 trillion litres of water on 320,000 hectares of land, both up about 4 per cent from 2016-17.

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Other farms using more water included those growing pasture and cereals, up 26 per cent to 1.2 trillion litres use on 8 per cent more land, or 395,000 hectares.

The extra water use came during the basin's hottest year on record for both the financial year and 2018 itself, with daytime temperatures more than two degrees above the 1961-90 average, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

Rainfall for the basin averaged 339.8 millimetres – the least since 2002 during the Millennium Drought and the second-driest since 1943.

Water issues have flared during the federal election campaign, with renewed interest in the sale of water during Barnaby Joyce's time as agriculture minister to a company co-founded and directed by Energy Minister Angus Taylor until the latter entered Parliament in 2013.

Maryanne Slattery, a water analyst with The Australia Institute, said the increased irrigation during 2017-18 as the region dried out "makes you wonder if the cap agreed to limit use to 1993-94 levels of development had been exceeded".

A report Ms Slattery released in March estimated irrigation for northern basin cotton this year would take as much as 1.1 trillion litres with a further trillion litres lost from evaporation. That compared to 40 billion litres flowing past the NSW town of Bourke and about 11 billion litres reaching Wilcannia on the Darling River.

Cotton Australia expects the amount of cotton picked to drop to 431,000 tonnes in 2018-19, down from 954,000 tonnes in 2017-18. Output will sink to about 222,460 tonnes next year.

“If we dont see any significant rainfall in the coming months, unfortunately our growers will face the harsh reality of a further reduced crop next season," Cotton Australia's chief executive, Adam Kay, said.

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