Economically Viable Options for Retired Irrigation Land

Areas of the Central Murray Irrigation districts are going to be faced with a decline in the amount of irrigation water available, due to water buy backs associated with the Murray Darling Basin Plan. Murray Irrigation Ltd (MIL) already has a channel retirement program in place and irrigators are selling water and shifting to annual purchasing of water when conditions allow.

This means large areas of land that previously was irrigated will change to dryland; and the frequency of irrigation on some areas will be greatly reduced. This puts pressure on dryland areas of the farm to produce, and there will be a need for landholders to find new ways to use previously irrigated land to generate income. The changes to water regimes mean landholders will have to adapt very quickly to new agricultural management and land uses. Much of the land subject to change is occupied by heavy sodic soils not suitable for continuous cropping, and therefore future use will likely be dryland grazing of a range of pasture types.

The community, through the Western Murray Land Improvement Group (WMLIG), has identified a need to investigate a range of options for the use of previously irrigated land in order to maintain productivity and profitability of farming in this landscape.  Land where irrigation has been removed in the project area tends to slowly return to a semi-native state, however where land levelling has been carried out or disturbance has been high, much or the naturalised pasture is dominated by annual species such as Barley Grass, roly poly and spring weeds.

The project is investigating a range of pasture species and management regimes to increase production in these ex-irrigation areas and compare the economic impact of the adoption of these options verses the “do nothing” (voluntary/ naturalised pasture) alternative. In doing so the project is seeking to address community concern over the impact these changes will have on community viability, through investigating alternative production options for retired irrigation land.

Project Status (August 2014)

Five pasture Variety Trial sites established at Noorong, Stoney Crossing, Mallan - Moulamein and Wakool. Information on species being trialled is outlined in the enclosed document.