Irrigated agriculture: horticulture

Irrigated agriculture: horticulture

Industry snapshot

  • Around 75% of Australia’s citrus, pome and stone fruit is grown in the Murray–Darling Basin. A large percentage of these crops are grown in the southern basin.
  • The number of farms growing citrus, pome and stone fruit has declined.
  • Some growers have diversified their operations, changed management practices and technologies to become more water efficient, and made greater use of water markets (as either buyers or sellers).
  • Incomes for horticulture growers in the southern basin have fluctuated widely, largely as a result of changes in crop yields, the quantity of crops sold, commodity prices, and farm input costs.
  • Average water application rates per hectare showed a slight downward trend for both citrus growers and pome/stone fruit growers.
  • Water trading has provided horticulture growers with greater flexibility in managing their use of water and consequently their farm business outcomes.
  • An increasing proportion of citrus growers have been using drip/trickle systems, with fewer growers using low throw sprinklers.

ABARES horticulture report

ABARES full report on irrigated agriculture in the basin

Irrigated agriculture is a major industry in the Murray–Darling Basin. To help build a picture of how irrigated farms are changing across time we are working with government agencies, organisations and communities to identify the social and economic effects of the Basin Plan and water recovery.

Horticulture is a key irrigated agricultural industry in the basin. Over time horticulture growers have been adapting to a range of factors including climate, a large drop in export demand and prices, as well as water reforms. The MDBA is using a ranges of sources to build a picture of the changes happening in the horticulture industry and growers’ experiences of adapting to these factors.

Key facts 2015

Information to date includes an Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) report Horticulture farming in the Murray–Darling Basin, and a workshop held with growers. Additional information collection and analysis will be completed in 2016 to help us understand the causes of trends and changes in the horticulture industry in the basin.

ABARES has conducted surveys of irrigation farms in selected industries and regions in the Basin since 2006–07. The latest report presents a range of data collected from horticulture growers in the southern Basin. The report describes the characteristics of horticulture production, farm financial performance, water use and efficiency, water trading and irrigation technologies and investment.

In October 2015 a workshop was held with a number of horticulture farmers in Barmera to test the findings of the ABARES report and identify gaps in our knowledge. Key messages from the workshop included:

  • there was a lot of positive sentiment about the future of the industry, particularly in relation to opportunities provided through new free trade agreements and increased market access into Japan and China
  • changes in the crop mix are driven by markets, not water
  • water makes up a relatively small proportion of input costs. However, growers were concerned about the shrinking consumptive pool of water due to the Basin Plan, combined with higher demands in the temporary market
  • when purchasing high security water, irrigators tend to own a mix of state products to spread risk across their portfolio and are looking more closely at carryover management
  • there needs to be better information about water markets to provide the potential for more informed decision making around trade.

This combination of information gives the MDBA a much deeper knowledge of the horticulture industry in the basin from both an industry and individual perspective. This mix of knowledge will help us to better understand how water reforms are affecting the industry. We will continue to work closely with industry on monitoring and evaluating the social and economic effects of the Basin Plan.