Water is a critical input for Queensland’s agricultural sector, essential to produce world class food, fibre and foliage. However, a recent report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows the volume of water used for irrigation was at its lowest level since 2010-11, down 26 per cent to 7.2 million megalitres in 2018-19. Additionally, the total area of crops and pastures irrigated during this time also fell, down 15 per cent to just under 2 million hectares with Queensland reporting the largest decrease, dropping 22 per cent to 414,000 hectares. While agricultural businesses purchasing extra water on a temporary basis bought 30 per cent less than the previous financial year but paid 66 per cent more.
We are in an era of change for Queensland’s water management. From achieving upstream nutrient reduction on farms to implementing new approaches for infrastructure maintenance and affordability programs, from finding ways to unlock and enable new growth in agricultural production by making more water available for use by irrigators at an affordable price to building robust hydro-resilience plans.
Much needs to be done to secure the future of the irrigation sector in this state. However, the agricultural sector cannot do this alone. Key government policy settings and initiatives are needed to unlock a step-change in the value of agricultural production throughout the state. State and federal governments must step up by supporting the development of new regional water projects that deliver reliable, good quality and affordable water supplies. They must also work closely with farmers to improve the reliability, affordability and utilisation of existing water supplies, create conditions for water markets to work properly, as well as open up access to unallocated water.
In these challenging economic times, it is up to government to create a business environment that nurtures a prosperous, resilient and sustainable agricultural sector. It is also vital for government policies, reforms, plans and change programs to clearly support the efficiency of the existing water infrastructure as well as the new development of further world-class irrigated agricultural industries in Queensland.