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rationalising irrigated agriculture « Previous | |Next »
January 15, 2007

An Age editorial addresses one implication of the water crisis that many say is caused by the drought whilst other says it is drought plus climate change. The implication is the rationalisation of agriculture in a world of glbal warming. The editorial states:

In the past six years, more than $1 billion in drought assistance has been doled out. No one disputes the need to keep in production those farms that are viable in all but extreme years. Not enough thought has been given, however, to which farming areas and practices may no longer be viable most of the time — particularly if water pricing more closely reflects its real scarcity and value. For some marginal farmland, drought aid simply extends the farmers' agony and compounds the damage to land that can no longer sustain them. The environment, in effect, pays a hidden subsidy for agricultural food and fibre production, at the expense of future productivity.

The editorial acknowledges that many agricultural producers are at the cutting edge of sustainable farming technology and practices that maximise efficient use of water, but rationalisation of agriculture has been a politically sensitive issue and thus all too slow. It goes on to say that we need to address what is marginal agriculture:
Four years ago the Victorian Catchment Management Council predicted that current agricultural practices would render 40 per cent of farmland useless by mid-century. Land and water resources continue to be exploited and degraded: salinification and soil denudation and loss has spread, while groundwater use doubled in the last decade despite concerns about replenishment and contamination.

The drought means that the focus is now falling on irrigation, which is far and away the biggest user of water. So what needs to be done in terms of the rationalisation of irrigated agriculture given this scenario?

The Age says:

It is time to end the waste of open channels, flood irrigation (instead of precisely monitored sub-surface irrigation) and crops that offer a low return on huge water use. For instance, returns on water to orchards can be up to 40 times those for rice. There may be a case for planting rice and cotton in wet years but an automatic massive entitlement to water cannot be justified when other uses are more justifiable. The same goes for non-essential industries predicated on abundant, ludicrously cheap water.

I've often heard that neo-liberals say that all that matters is water efficiency--- what is produced does not matter. However, sustainable agriculture is more than the efficient use of scarce resources. What the editorial does not mention is the buying back of water licences as the farmers sell their property and leave the industry.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:09 AM |