Murray-Mallee horticultural growth under microscope

Murray-Mallee horticultural growth under microscope

Water
JOINT APPROACH: The southern Murray Darling Basin states have agreed to look at horticultural plantings in the Murray-Mallee region.

JOINT APPROACH: The southern Murray Darling Basin states have agreed to look at horticultural plantings in the Murray-Mallee region.

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Joint approach needed to manage lower Murray-Mallee extractions.

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Victoria's Water Minister has welcomed the acknowledgement, by NSW and South Australia, that all southern Basin states need to look closely at the extent of horticultural growth in the Murray-Mallee region.

Federal and state water ministers, meeting in Brisbane, agreed Victoria, NSW and South Australia would work together to address the very real risk of deliverability shortfalls in the Murray-Mallee region.

"If we don't limit growth, we won't be able to deliver water to existing entitlement holders," Water Minister Lisa Neville said.

"That's a major issue, across the Basin."

She said the Brisbane water ministers meeting saw NSW and South Australia agreeing to work with Victoria to implement immediate precautionary measures to limit further extractions from the Murray River.

Ms Neville said that would protect the rights of existing entitlement holders and reducing pressure on an already stressed system.

Earlier this year, Ms Neville announced she would be personally reviewing all new and increased extraction licence applications.

Read more: Strict rules imposed on new water extraction in the lower Murray

NSW and South Australia would now look at establishing similar policies to ensure consistency across borders.

The decision comes as Victoria has released the latest figures on horticultural development in the Murray-Mallee region.

Read more: Water security concerns put brake on Select Harvest's expansion plans

The figures show development has expanded at the fastest rate in 10 years, on the back of strong prices, with almond plantings up by 50 per cent.

Ms Neville said the 2018 Mallee Horticulture Crop Report tracked the extent of irrigation expansion and redevelopment over the past year in the Murray-Mallee.

"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," Ms Neville said.

"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 Barmah Choke.

"Long-term solutions for managing delivery through the system will need an interstate approach."

The report demonstrated the importance of the 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 3pc.

Expansion primarily occurred along the river (99pc) and was predominantly almond (50pc) and table grape plantings (27pc).

This rate of development had not been reported since 2009 and signalled that while water availability has been low, there was still confidence in the region.

Read more: Concerns raised about horticultural growth in the Sunraysia region

The 2019 update also shows that irrigators in the Victorian Murray-Mallee are highly efficient with their water usage.

Flood irrigation methods have decreased 87pc by area since 1997, while drip irrigation has become the dominant method, covering 61pc of irrigated area.

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