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QTPA Member Alert |Water Use on Australian Farms, ABS 2011-12 (2/10/2013)

Water Use on Australian Farms, ABS 2011-12 


  • Consecutive years of good rainfall has resulted in increased water availability for the agricultural sector.
  • Australia’s total agricultural water use in 2011-12 was 9,007 gigalitres, which was 1,456 gigalitres (19%) more than in 2010-11.
  • More than two thirds (69%) of this use was in the Murray-Darling Basin, which amounted to 6,174 gigalitres.
  • The states using the most water were New South Wales with 3,751 gigalitres and Queensland with 2,108 gigalitres.



  • New South Wales irrigated the greatest area of land with 786,000 hectares, or 37% of the national agricultural land irrigated. Victoria irrigated 26% of the national total with 558,000 hectares, and Queensland irrigated 23% with 492,000 hectares.

Water used for irrigation

  • In 2011-12, New South Wales was the largest user of water for irrigation at 3,527 gigalitres, followed by Queensland at 1,884 gigalitres. Together these two states used around two-thirds of the irrigation water used in Australia.

Application rate

  • The national application rate was 3.8 ML/ha, with Western Australia having the highest rate at 4.9 ML/ha.


  • In 2011-12, 38% of Australia’s agricultural water (3,419 gigalitres) came from irrigation channels, and 27% (2,405 gigalitres) was sourced from rivers, creeks and lakes. Around 18% of agricultural water (1,589 gigalitres) came from groundwater, whilst on-farm dams and tanks accounted for 15% of agricultural water (1,315 gigalitres).
  • In 2011-12, water supplied by irrigation channels was the major source of water for agriculture in the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB), accounting for 45% of agricultural water sourced in the region (2,768 gigalitres).
  • Outside the MDB, groundwater was the major source of water for agriculture at 36% (1,021 gigalitres).


  • In 2011-12, the largest area of irrigated land in Australia was pasture and cereal crops used for grazing or fed off, which accounted for 614,000 hectares, or 29% of the total area irrigated.
  • In the Murray-Darling Basin (MDB), pastures and cereal crops used for grazing or fed off accounted for the largest area of irrigated land, with 398,000 hectares, or 28% of the total irrigated land in the MDB. This was closely followed by cotton, with 366,000 hectares (26%) irrigated.

Water used for irrigation

  • The largest volume of irrigation water was applied to cotton, which used 2,069 gigalitres, or 25% of the national irrigation total for the year (8,175 gigalitres).
  • Cotton used the largest volume of irrigation water in the MDB, with 1,906 gigalitres being applied, which represented nearly one third (32%) of all irrigation water used in the MDB in 2011-12.

Application rate

  • The commodity with the highest irrigation application rate in 2011-12 was rice, which used 11.0 ML/ha in the MDB and nationally.


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