Water is not the determining factor in the local economies of irrigation towns in southern NSW, Victoria and South Australia, according to new analysis from the Murray Darling Basin Authority.
A new report compiles demographic and water recovery data in an effort to understand the determining factors impacting communities that are undergoing water reform.
The report looks at 45 irrigation districts and the jobs contained in them, and draws on information collected by Australian Bureau of Statistics between 2001 and 2016.
The report notes influential demographic factors include shifts in agricultural production, technology and climate, as well as water availability for irrigation.
The analysis indicated direct buybacks hurt regional irrigation economies, particularity those early in the water reform process from 2001, but on-farm investment schemes had delivered productivity benefits and enviroment water.
The report was limited to the irrigated areas shown in the map below, and does not cover urban and non-irrigated areas.
MDBA chief executive Phillip Glyde said the results showed unexpected variability of impacts from water recovery across the Southern Basin.
“Even though there are common trends, in terms of mechanisation in agriculture reducing jobs, and regional population changes, I was surprised by the results,” he said.
“When you put all the factors together with the pattern of water recovery you end with an array of complex local stories.”
Employment fell in some regions while only a small amount of water was recovered, while in others large amounts of recovery had not impacted employment, Mr Glyde said.
“This indicates that not only is the Basin Plan just one of a number of factors behind social and economic change—but in many communities it may not be the most significant factor.”
A notable factor in boosting productivity is the Basin Plan’s on-farm infrastructure schemes, which swap Commonwealth funding for investment in to improve the efficiency of water use in private farm enterprises for water entitlements.
An analogous report was produced in 2016 covering 21 towns in the Northern Basin, which runs across Queensland and NSW.
Southern Basin irrigation districts 2001-2016
- Employment fell on average 24 per cent, increasing in rate over time
- Employment dropped 3pc between 2001-2008, then 8pc from 2006 to 2011 and 13pc between 2011-2016
- The average change to community population in the irrigated region was a decrease of 9pc. It dropped 3pc between 2001-2006, and fell 7.5pc from 2006-2011 and increased 1.5pc between 2011-2016
- The data does not include season workers
Coleambally irrigation region, NSW 2001-2016
In a traditional rice growing region of NSW significant modernisation of infrastructure has fuelled consolidation of farm enterprises and diversification of cropping, with cotton a notable recent entry.
- Surface water entitlements in Coleambally were 316 gigaltires before the Basin Plan
- 14.5GL was recovered through direct buybacks, of which 73pc occured prior to 2011
- 10.6GL was recovered through on-farm infrastructure schemes
- The net reduction in water for irrigation was 10GL
- The population fell from 1226 in 2011 to 1192 in 2016
- Overall: down from 514 to 406 (three quarters of the reduction occurred between 2011 - 2016)
- Agriculture: down 23pc (employment in irrigated production fell 25pc)
- Ag manufacturing workforce: down 11pc
- Non ag private: down 45pc, or 68 full time jobs
- Government services: up 22pc, or 13 full time jobs
Shepparton irrigation region, Victoria 2001-2016
The Shepparton region covers the private Goulburn Murray Irrigation District (GMID), which has experienced a significant decline in jobs.
Production in the traditionally strong dairy industry region shrunk 25pc since the turn of the Century. About 40pc of water buybacks in the GMID took place between 2011 and 2016, but employment in dairying only fell 4 per cent in that period.
- Surface water entitlements in Shapparton were 212GL before the Basin Plan
- 27.5GL was recovered through direct buybacks. 58pc occured prior to 2011
- 3.3GL was recovered through on-farm infrastructure schemes
- The net reduction in water for irrigation was 26GL
- The population rose from 11,952 in 2011 to 17,853 in 2016
- Overall: up from 4608 to 17,853 (all the increase occurred between 2001 - 2011)
- Agriculture: down 19pc, or 221 full time jobs (employment in irrigated production fell 42pc)
- Ag manufacturing workforce: down 8pc or 30 full time jobs
- Non ag private: up 29pc, or 644 full time jobs
- Government services: up 112pc, or 934 full time jobs
Renmark irrigation region South Australia, 2001 - 2016
The Riverland towns is a large producer of a many horticulture crops which has experience a significant decline in both the total volume of water for irrigation and jobs in the region.
Agricultural production has been maintained while net water recovery in Renmark and Waikerie averaged about 20pc of water for irrigation, but farmers have bought additional water entitlements and transferred them to the region.
Government investment in water infrastructure has also helped increase efficiency and maintain production.
There has been a 10pc reduction in the area of irrigated agriculture.
The decline in employment is greater than the decline in agricultural production, indicating other factors such as drought and mechanisation are contributing factors.
More than half the decrease in agricultural employment occurred between 2001 and 2006, prior to Basin Plan water recovery.
- Surface water entitlements in Renmark were 118.3GL before the Basin Plan
- 22.7GL was recovered through direct buybacks. 61pc occured prior to 2011
- 5.2GL was recovered through on-farm infrastructure schemes
- The net reduction in water for irrigation was 20.8GL
- The population fell from 9484 in 2011 to 9069 in 2016
- Overall: down from 3263 to 2779
- Agriculture: down 43pc, or 555 full time jobs (employment in irrigated production fell 44pc)
- Ag manufacturing: down 39pc, or 125 full time jobs
- Non ag private: up 1.5pc, 15 full time jobs
- Government services: up 18pc, or 87 full time jobs