Irrigation Developments in Australia: Irrigation and Agricultural Production

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference paperChapterpeer-review


Irrigated agriculture plays an important role in providing food, and there is growing awareness of the need to produce more from less water as its primary user status is increasingly challenged. Competition and water scarcity has become a driving force for improving water use efficiency in agricultural contexts. Agriculture is by far the largest user of developed water resources in most countries; so, any efficiency-gains irrigation practices can greatly contribute to Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially those focused on zero hunger (SDG 2) and sustainable water management (SDG 6). Irrigation from rivers or groundwater allows for more productive agriculture than can be achieved from rainfed agriculture alone; thus, for Australia, more intensive irrigated farming is more profitable per hectare than dryland agriculture. Worldwide, irrigated agriculture consumes 70% of harvested freshwater; and this is no different in Australia where agriculture uses 50%–70% of the water consumed per annum, with irrigation responsible for ~90% of that consumption (Rahman et al., 2017). This disproportionate use of available water resources occurs despite irrigation occupying an only 5% of tilled agricultural lands in Australia and only 0.58% of the Australian landmass. Nevertheless, irrigation produces between 25% and 30% of the nations’ agricultural value and ~50% of the profits, the majority of which is produced in the Murray–Darling Basin (MDB). Drying climates being experienced in southern Australia are impacting on the long-term reliability of water resources used for irrigated agricultural production. Expanding or even maintaining the existing level of irrigation in Australia faces significant challenges in regard to water security. The wetter northern Australian regions have long been mooted as having potential for expansion of irrigation in the future, but these regions face different challenges associated with pests, diseases, soil fertility, water storage, distance to market, lack of transport and other infrastructure, and the need to maintain existing cultural and environmental needs. The last two decades have witnessed a shift in Federal and State government water policies, irrigation industry expectations and reallocation of water resources to meet changing environmental and cultural needs and expectations. There is a need to continue to reshape irrigated production systems in Australia to imbue the necessary climate resilience and ensure greater equity in shared water resources
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHandbook of Irrigation Hydrology and Management
Subtitle of host publicationIrrigation Case Studies
EditorsSaeid Eslamian, Faezeh Eslamian
Place of PublicationUSA
PublisherCRC Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781003353928
ISBN (Print)9781032406077, 9781032429106
Publication statusPublished - 11 May 2023


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