Investigating the future:
Irrigation in the southern Murray-Darling Basin

The irrigation industry in the southern Murray-Darling Basin is undergoing rapid change. The Irrigation Futures Framework (IFF?) is a computer package to assist decision makers by providing more information about the likely impact of a range of development options being considered for the future of the industry.

Irrigation districts in the southern Murray-Darling Basin

Future decisions - getting them right!

The irrigation industry is facing a complicated future. Irrigators and decision makers in agencies dealing with resource management in irrigation areas will soon have to make difficult decisions that will have far reaching effects on their communities.

The next few years will see major changes in irrigation districts; the costs of irrigation are going up, water trading is being expanded and producers are facing increasing competition on both domestic and foreign markets. At the same time environmental problems, caused by rising water tables and nutrient run-off, are increasing.

Irrigation communities will have to change the crops they produce, the methods they use to produce them, the way they promote them to consumers and the markets they target. In some areas irrigators will decide to sell their water and retire their properties from irrigation. In others they will choose to purchase water, plant new crops and invest in upgraded water delivery systems.

Getting these decisions right could make the difference between profitable success or living with heavy debts, unsaleable crops and severely degraded land. Salinization is degrading agricultural land in many parts of the Riverine Plains. Expansion of dairying is one of the options that will be tested by the computer package.

Reducing the guess work

Until now, irrigators considering whether they should make major changes to their operations have had to rely on experience, inspired guess work and hunches in assessing the likely future results. The computer package being developed by BRS will not take the risks out of irrigated agriculture. However it will mean that when people use it to help make decisions, guess work will play a much smaller part in the process than has been the case to date.

Computer package to help irrigators

When making long-term decisions about the future of agricultural activity in their districts, irrigators will have to take into account many different factors. The computer package will allow users to try out different options and examine the results. It uses a wide range of detailed information which is being collected from the Barr Creek, Harston and Mokanger-Warragoon districts on the Riverine Plains. The information being processed includes groundwater conditions, soil characteristics, climate, land use, production, and financial data.

Using the studies of irrigation activity in these districts, communities will be able to test the impact of changing environmental, production and market situations on the different options being considered for the development of their own areas. The package will allow users to assess how each option would be affected by a range of policies and programs, land and water management plans, infrastructure renewal, water market reforms, structural adjustment, land retirement or a change to an alternative landuse. This will give planners a much better idea, than is possible at present, of the likely long-term costs and benefits that would result from any particular decision.

The project, titled Biophysical, agricultural production and socioeconomic futures in irrigation regions: a twenty year profile, is being developed by Dr Dawn Fordham (Agricultural Production & Natural Resources Branch) and Kim Malafant (National Resource Information Centre) in collaboration with:

This project is being funded by the Murray-Darling Basin Commission

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