Horticulture development in the Victorian Murray-Mallee region over the past 12 months has expanded at the fastest rate in 10 years on the back of strong prices, with almond plantings making up 50 per cent.
Minister for Water Lisa Neville today released an update to the 2018 Mallee Horticulture Crop Report – tracking the extent of irrigation expansion and redevelopment over the past year in the Murray-Mallee.
The report demonstrates the importance of the Andrews Labor Government’s move to limit new or increase extraction licences – with the significant growth putting water deliverability at risk for the whole region.
Between mid-2018 to mid-2019 irrigation land in the Mallee region increased by 2,470 ha, the equivalent of 3 per cent. Expansion primarily occurred along the river (99 per cent) and was predominantly almond (50 per cent) and table grape plantings (27 per cent).
This rate of development has not been reported since 2009 and signals that while water availability has been low, there is still confidence in the region.
However, the huge increase in irrigation area in the region over the past 12 months also demonstrates the increased risks to ensuring enough water is delivered down to the lower Murray from upper storages to meet demands for the environment and irrigation.
The issue of whether current and future water demand can be supplied is a key part of the work Victoria has been pushing for at Ministerial Council, with all states agreeing to an independent panel to assess MDBA’s deliverability work. This panel is to report back to Ministers at the Ministerial Council in Brisbane later this month.
Victoria is protecting the environment and water entitlement holders against the negative impacts of increasing water extractions below the Barmah Choke with the new licence review process put in place in July this year.
Minister Neville has also written to New South Wales and South Australian counterparts to consider similar actions to ensure developments within their states do not increase.
The 2019 update also shows that irrigators in the Victorian Murray-Mallee are highly efficient with their water usage. Flood irrigation methods have decreased 87 per cent by area since 1997, while drip irrigation has become the dominant method, covering 61 per cent of irrigated area.
Quotes attributable to Minister for Water Lisa Neville
“It’s great to see that despite ongoing dry conditions, plantings in the Mallee region are thriving and irrigators are really thinking about how they’re using their water.”
“This report is a big vote of confidence in the Mallee, but we know there are still ongoing concerns about increasing water needs, which is why we’ve taken steps to limit new water extraction below the Choke.”
“Long-term solutions for managing delivery through the system will need an interstate approach, and I’ll be pushing for all Basin states to work together in the coming months to get this right.”