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Getting informed about the MDB

The ABS have just released a compendium of water use and other statistics for the Murray Darling Basin. I found it useful and valuable for understanding the MDB. Some of the choicer observations.

Physical Attributes. The MDB covers 14% of Australia’s land area mostly in NSW (56%) and Queensland (24%). A fair slab of Victoria is in the MDB but it is only a small state. Australia’s three longest rivers, the Darling (2,740 km), Murray (2,530 km) and Murrumbidgee (1,690 km) are in the MDB. 84% of the land in the MDB is owned by businesses engaged in agriculture with 67% of the MDB used for growing crops and pasture. In 2005-06 MDB temperatures were 2°C hotter than average. The MDB receives an average annual rainfall of 530,618 GL. Of this, 94% evaporates or transpires (not a misprint!), 2% drains into the ground, and the other 4% becomes run-off.

People. 10% of Australians – about 2 million people living in the MDB. Population is concentrated in NSW (39%) and Victoria (29%). A lot of people.

Agriculture is a significant employer with 10% of all people employed compared to 3% Australia-wide. But retail employs 14%, health and welfare 11%, Government administration and defence 10% – all more than agricultural employment – and even manufacturing is a surprising 9%. Not mainly agricultural.

Mean equivalised household income was $675 per week in 2006 compared to $732 for Australia as a whole.

Almost two-fifths (38%) of Australia’s farmers reside in the MDB. The number employed as farmers in the MDB decreased by 10% between 1996 and 2006 and numbers employed in all other occupations increased by 18%. 39% of people employed and aged 65 years or over in the MDB were farmers – the oldies make up a lot of the farmers.

Water Use. In 2004-05, industries including Agriculture and households in the MDB used 52% of Australia’s total water consumption. 83% of water consumed was in agriculture. MDB households consumed only 2%.

3% of Australia’s electricity and 33% of the nation’s hydro-electricity was generated in the MDB.

7,720 GL of water was consumed in agriculture which is 66% of Australia’s agricultural water consumption. Most water consumed originated as surface water (6,499 GL or 84% of MDB agricultural water consumption) and groundwater (1,069 GL or 14%).

Most surface water consumed by agriculture was in NSW (57%) and Victoria (30%). Over 70% of the 1,069 GL of groundwater consumed was in NSW. The agricultural commodities using most water were:

  • cotton – 1,574 GL or 20% of water used for agriculture in the MDB;
  • dairy farming – 1,287 GL or 17%;
  • pasture for other livestock – 1,284 GL or 17%; and
  • rice – 1,252 GL or 16%.

Agriculture. There were 61,033 farms in the MDB or 39% of all farms in Australia.  A significant proportion of Australia’s food production was grown in the MDB in 2005-06:

  • 100% of rice;
  • 95% of oranges;
  • 62% of pigs;
  • 54% of apples; and
  • 48% of wheat.

The MDB contained 65% of Australia’s irrigated land. The 1.65 million hectares (ha) of irrigated crops and pasture in the MDB were distributed as pasture (43%); cereals other than rice (20%); cotton (15%); rice (6%); grapes (6%); fruit and nuts (5%); and vegetables (2%).

In 2005-06, the Gross Value of Agricultural Production (GVAP) in the MDB was $15 billion or 39% of the Australiann total. Between 2000-01 and 2005-06, GVAP in the MDB increased by 7.3% while over the same period, the GVAP of all Australian agriculture increased by 12.8%. The MDB is not growing much comparatively.

The Gross Value of Irrigated Agricultural Production (GVIAP) in the MDB remained at $4600 million. GVIAP as a proportion of GVAP in the MDB decreased from 33% in 2000-01 to 31% in 2005-06.

In 2005-06, irrigated agriculture in the MDB generated 44% of Australia’s GVIAP. Of this:

  • dairy farming generated $938 million, or 20% of MDB GVIAP;
  • fruit and nuts generated $898 million, or 20%;
  • cotton generated $797 million or 17%;
  • grapes generated $722 million or 16%.

In 2005-06, some irrigated crops in the MDB accounted for relatively high levels of GVIAP using relatively low levels of water consumption. Examples:

  • fruit and nuts (20% of total GVIAP; 5% of agricultural water consumption); 
  • vegetables (12% of total GVIAP; 2% of a.w.c).

Other irrigated crops in the MDB accounted for relatively low levels of GVIAP using relatively high levels of water consumption. Examples:

  • rice (6% of total GVIAP; 16% of agricultural water consumption);
  • and cereals other than rice (2% of total GVIAP; 10% of a.w.c.).

Fairly pointed comparisons for the ABS number nuts! Good on them. It is interesting stuff.

Natural Resource Management. Most NRM effort in the MDB during 2004-05 was spent managing weeds, pests, and land and soil. Farmers in the MDB reported the lowest effort expended on managing water issues (27 person days per farm on average) of all the NRM issues, equivalent to half of the effort put towards land and soil activities (54 person days per farm on average). Hmmmm….

I learnt a lot from this data base. It is a 150 page report and I have only summarised the synopsis. Pages 140-144 provides a useful survey of government policies in the MDB. Useful for me as a teaching aid. Well done ABS!

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