Irrigation in Tasmania

Watch the video to find out why irrigation is so important in Tasmania.

Video courtesy of Tasmanian Irrigation.

Despite its temperate climate, Tasmania has a long history of irrigated agriculture. Irrigation allows Tasmanian farmers to overcome the regular dry spells in spring, summer and autumn when evaporation exceeds rainfall. More than half the value of Tasmania’s agricultural production comes from the 7-8% of Tasmanian farmland that is irrigated. In 2006 it was reported that Tasmania’s dairy, vegetable and perennial horticulture sectors used 40%, 40% and 20% respectively of the state’s irrigation water.

Tasmania generates an average 12% of Australia’s water runoff (about the same as the entire Murray-Darling Basin) on less than 1% of the nation’s land area. The Tasmanian and Australian governments are exploiting this natural advantage by investing $220 million to further develop irrigation infrastructure throughout Tasmania’s agricultural regions. Tasmanian farmers and other private investors are committing a similar amount to this development through their purchase of tradeable water entitlements. Irrigation is seen as a key to increasing opportunity and wealth at farm, regional and state levels.

Three new irrigation schemes are already operational (Great Forester, Sassafras/Wesley Vale and Whitemore), three more are under construction (Kindred/North Motton, Midlands and Lower South Esk) while the infrastructure of two existing schemes (Winnaleah and Meander Valley) has been upgraded and extended to service more land. A further seven schemes are either undergoing feasibility assessment or are offering water for sale. The schemes have sound economic and environmental foundations.

Significant benefits are likely from irrigators working with scientists and extension professionals to fully realise opportunities from investment in new irrigation infrastructure. Many of the existing and proposed irrigation areas contain soils which are saline, sodic and/or erosive. Challenges jointly faced by irrigators, scientists and extension professionals include identifying the best mix enterprises to achieve business and sustainability goals. This includes understanding how intensively irrigated land can be farmed without harming soil, water and biodiversity, and how dryland and irrigated operations can be integrated in profitable and sustainable farming systems.

The expansion of irrigated agriculture across Tasmania represents a significant cultural change that is likely to have consequences for the demographic composition of communities, and lifestyles. The economic and social impacts of these substantial on-farm and regional changes will need to be managed jointly by communities, industries and governments. Through new science and the adoption of best management practices Tasmanian growers can avoid or minimise the impact of many of the social and sustainability issues associated with irrigation in other areas of Australia and the world.