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Water Use on Australian Farms

Final estimates of agricultural water use, irrigation water sources and expenditure. Estimates are presented at Australia, state & territories levels

Reference period
2017 - 2018
Released
30/04/2019

Water used on Australian farms

10.5 million megalitres of water were used by Australian farming businesses in 2017-18.

  • 2.3 million hectares of agricultural land was irrigated (up 2%)
  • 9.7 million megalitres (ML) of water was used to irrigate crops and pastures (up 7%)
  • 22 thousand farms applied water to their land (up 2%)
     

Water used to irrigate crops and pastures

Pastures and crops accounted for most of the water used on Australian farms in 2017-18. Irrigated cotton production and pastures for grazing were key contributors with increases in both area irrigated and volume of water applied.

7.2 million megalitres were applied to Crops (69% of all water applied)

  • cotton: 2.8 million ML (up 7%) was applied to 359 thousand hectares (up 10%)
  • sugar cane: 1.0 million ML (up 4%) was applied to 212 thousand hectares (down 0.1%)
  • rice: 733 thousand ML (down 22%) was applied to 61 thousand hectares (down 26%)
  • fruit, nut, plantation and berry fruit: 939 thousand ML (up 12%) was applied to 156 thousand hectares (up 10%)
  • grapevines: 474 thousand ML (up 9%) was applied to 124 thousand hectares (up 1%)
  • vegetables: 399 thousand ML (up 3%) was applied to 99 thousand hectares (up 1%)
     

2.5 million megalitres were applied to Pastures (24% of all water applied)

  • pastures and cereals fed off: 1.8 million ML (up 18%) was applied to 604 thousand hectares (up 1%)
  • pastures and cereals cut for hay: 478 thousand ML (up 4%) was applied to 134 thousand hectares (down 13%)
  • pastures cut for silage:194 thousand ML (up 8%) was applied to 71 thousand hectares (up 5%)
     
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Murray Darling Basin

More than two thirds (70%) of all Australian agricultural water use was within the Murray Darling Basin region in 2017-18.

In 2017-18 in the Murray Darling Basin

  • 1.5 million hectares of agricultural land was irrigated (up 8%)
  • 6.8 million ML of water was applied (up 7%)
     

Cotton and Pastures for Grazing account for more than half of the water applied in this region.

  • cotton: 2.5 million ML (up 4%) was applied to 320 thousand hectares (up 4%)
  • pastures and cereals fed off: 1.2 million ML (up 26%) was applied to 395 thousand hectares (up 8%)
  • cereal crops for grain or seed (excluding rice): 527 thousand ML (up 32%) was applied to 293 thousand hectares (up 53%)
     
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Water expenditure and sources

Irrigation expenditure

Extra irrigation water purchased on a temporary basis reached a record level in 2017-18 driven by increases in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. The volume of water purchased also increased in these states.

In 2017-18:

  • $201 million of extra water was purchased on a temporary basis (up 86%) amounting to 1.7 million ML (up 36%)
  • $57 million of extra water was purchased on a permanent basis (down 27%) amounting to 122 thousand ML (down 13%)
  • The total cost of annual irrigation charges remained steady at $243 million
     
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  1. Data for some states has been supressed due to confidentiality. See Methodology page for more details.

Sources of water for agricultural production

Australian farms used a total of 10.5 million megalitres (up 5%) of water taken from various sources including:

  • 3.9 million ML from irrigation channels or pipelines (up 6%)
  • 3.0 million ML of water from rivers, creeks or lakes (up 4%)
  • 2.2 million ML of groundwater (up 19%)
  • 1.2 million ML from on farm dams or tanks (down 12%)
  • 158 thousand ML from recycled or reused water from off farm sources (up 15%)
  • 54 thousand ML from a town or country reticulated mains supply (down 25%)
     
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Data downloads

Water use on Australian farms by Australia, state/territory, NRM and MDB regions

Water use on Australian farms by Australia, state/territory and ASGS SA4 level regions

Water use on Australian farms by Australia, state/territory, NRM and MDB regions (.csv file)

Water use on Australian farms by Australia, state/territory and ASGS SA4 level regions (.csv file)