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The value of irrigation

Aussie farmers feed 30 million people a serve of rice each day for a year

The value of Australia's irrigation crops has been highlighted in the latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The data shows Australia's rice growers, of which the southern Riverina is a key driver, produced enough to feed 30 million people one serve of rice each day for a full year in 2016-17.

Irrigated crops were a key part of the 20% increase in value of Australian crops in 2016-17, part of an agricultural industry that overall generated $60.8 billion for Australia.

National Irrigators Council chief executive Steve Whan said as well as cotton and rice, key irrigated crops boosting the balance of payments and generating Australian jobs include sugar cane worth $1.6 billion, fruit and nuts worth $4.2 billion, vegetables worth $3.9 billion, grapes ($1.5b), along with the product of nurseries, cut flowers and turf ($1.5b).

Mr Whan said when rice crops are grown, it supplies

Australian and international markets, producing huge benefits for every Australian.

“Milk production went down in 2016-17 but was still worth $3.7 billion to the nation – most of which wouldn’t be there without irrigation.

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“The increase in production highlighted by the ABS data shows, in part, how irrigation responds to climate variability. Irrigation infrastructure enables water to be stored and used when needed for food production (and to supply environmental flows), but when inflows are low, irrigators have less water allocated.

“While good 2016-17 conditions meant irrigators could help ‘grow’ Australia’s export income, we can’t just assume that will continue. Irrigators’ two critical inputs are water availability, and the now unjustifiably high electricity prices, which push up the cost of pumping water and therefore the cost of production.

“High electricity costs are impeding the transition from a ‘mining boom’ to a ‘dining boom’ and that’s why irrigators have the dual focus on water and power. Irrigators are telling Government there must be a maximum price for electricity of 16 cents/kwh.

“Just imagine what affordable electricity combined with a good season could do for Australia’s bottom line, let alone employment opportunities in regional Australia.”