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New report tracks 12 years of change in irrigation sector

A new report has revealed major changes in irrigation methods and a significant expansion in the area of irrigated land across the Mallee during the past 12 years.

Released today, the “Mallee Irrigated Horticulture 1997-2009” report tracks changes in the regional irrigation sector over time. It shows the dominant irrigation method has changed from furrow or flood irrigation in 1997 to drip irrigation in 2009, leaving just 3 percent of the region’s crops irrigated by furrow or flood methods.

The State Government funded report also revealed a 75 percent increase in irrigated area along the Murray River from Nyah to the South Australian border from 1997 to 2009, with most of the expansion occurring in the private diversion areas. This growth was associated with almond and olive plantations.

Across the four pumped irrigation districts of Merbein, Mildura, Irymple and Red Cliffs, the report found 27 percent of crop area was vacant (not irrigated) in 2009. Vacant land refers to areas previously irrigated that have now been cleared. This broke down to 35 percent vacant land in Merbein; 30 percent in the Mildura district; 24 percent in Red Cliffs; and 13 percent in Robinvale.

However, the Mallee Catchment Management Authority (CMA), which commissioned the report, has cautioned this report was not developed to provide an up-to-date snapshot of areas recently retired from irrigation. The purpose of the report was to track the significant change the irrigation sector has been through in the past 12 years and to evaluate the effectiveness of programs put in place to support irrigators during this time.

The “Mallee Irrigated Horticulture 1997-2009” report was compiled by SunRISE 21, utilising its crop mapping databases and scale-accurate digital imagery processed from aerial photography. This information is regarded as the best data available to track crop and irrigation changes at a sub-hectare level across the landscape. The most recent imagery used in the report was taken in February 2009, to capture information on the 2008-09 irrigation season.

Work is continuing on a separate irrigation status report, which will provide accurate and the most up to date information available on the amount of land retired from irrigation in the Sunraysia pumped irrigation and private diverter districts. This report is expected to be released in April-May, 2010.

Mallee CMA chief executive officer Jenny Collins said the information provided in the report charted a period of major change in the local irrigation sector.

“This report will be a vital tool in evaluating the success of various management programs the authority has put in place, such as salinity management plans,” she said.

“It will help us assess what programs have worked well and tailor future natural resource management programs to suit what the local irrigation sector needs, while the irrigation industry itself will also be able to use the information to inform its long term plans.”

Other key findings of the “Mallee Irrigated Horticulture 1997-2009” report showed that while wine grape plantings were the main development between 1997 and 2003, the core growth spurt from 2003 to 2009 was the planting of almond trees. Other significant crop changes included a 3995 hectare increase in fruit trees and a 5855 hectare decrease in field crops, such as cereals, pasture and turf. Vegetable production also emerged as an alternative crop type across the region.

Click on the links below to view:

Mallee Irrigated Horticulture 1997-2009” report.

For a pdf version to download for printing click here

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