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Local growers start to bring land back into production

Local growers have started to bring land back into production, with a new study showing the area of irrigable land dried off has decreased for the first time since 2005-06.

The 2011 Irrigation Status Report has shown a one percent decrease in the area of land dried off from irrigation in the pumped irrigation districts compared to the previous season, while in the private diversion areas, a two percent decrease was recorded.

The drop in the amount of land dried off from irrigation was found to be due to the redevelopment into table grape in the Mildura and Robinvale pumped irrigation districts, while in Merbein and Red Cliffs, areas were also redeveloped in the last 12 months, predominantly for grapevines (table and dried), a range of vegetables, as well as field crops such as lucerne.

The total area of irrigation land dried off from irrigation (or not receiving water) within the pumped irrigation districts was 31 percent (4940 hectares) in 2010-11, down slightly on last season’s figure of 32 percent (5180 hectares). Of the 2010-11 total figure, 538 hectares of the irrigable land that dried off subject to the Small Block Irrigators Exit Grant, a figure which remains unchanged since last year.

Of the four pumped irrigation districts, Merbein had the highest area of irrigable land dried off from irrigation at 41 percent. However, this figure was down two percent on last season’s figure of 43 percent.

In the private diversion areas, the decrease in areas dried off from irrigation was also due to some redevelopment and the planting of some permanent plantings and seasonal crops such as vegetables.

The 2011 Irrigation Status Report was commissioned by the Mallee Catchment Management Authority (CMA), with funding from the Victorian Government. Lower Murray Water supported the project and SunRISE 21 carried out the research.

Mallee CMA Chairperson Sharyon Peart said the report quantified the impact of extraordinary climatic conditions, variable water allocations and economic conditions on the Mallee irrigated horticulture sector.

“The Irrigation Status Report provides the community, industry groups and government with really important information that reflects how the horticulture sector is travelling,” she said.

“It provides all of us with an insight into how growers across the pumped irrigation districts and the private diversion areas responded to the wetter-than-average season and it provides this information at a specific district by-district level.”

However, Ms Peart noted that the gathering data for the report during one of wettest seasons on record was difficult and, as a result, a significant amount of ground truthing was required.

“Satellite imagery has been a very effective way of rapidly assessing the area of irrigable land receiving water as this imagery picks up healthy, irrigated crops,” she said.

“However, this year interpretation of satellite imagery was difficult as the heavy rainfall across the region resulted in excessive weed growth.

“To ensure that the data used in this report was as accurate as possible, SunRISE 21 also cross checked the results using high resolution imagery and additional field surveys which were undertaken by work crews from the Mallee CMA’s Mallee Flood Recovery Environmental Employment Program.”

Click here to download a copy of the 2011 Irrigation Status Report.

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