|3||Some major agricultural commodities|
|6||Other agricultural commodities|
|7||The Future of Agriculture in the MDB|
The vast area of the Basin encompasses a range of climatic conditions, making possible the production of a wide diversity of agricultural commodities, from sub-tropical to cool temperate. This section is essentially concerned with the more than 100 different types of agricultural crops and livestock are produced in the MDB by dryland and irrigation farming (ABS 2001).
In the Murray-Darling Basin , sheep and cattle enterprises dominate the agriculture pursuits (see Figure 1 & 2) but with significant regional variations across the Basin. Sheep grazing is more dominant in the western catchments (Figure 2) but is also important across the southern MDB, whereas beef cattle and broad acre cropping is more important in the eastern catchments. Dairying is limited to the northeast and north-central Victoria and southern NSW in the Murray Catchment however small areas do exist in SA River Murray and Condamine catchments. The areas of cotton, grapes, horticulture and rice are relatively small and belie their economic significance (Figure 2 and Bryan & Marvanek 2004).
Whilst crop production is of critical importance to the MDB’s agriculture, it occupies only a relatively small proportion of the area of land in farms. Most of the agricultural land in the MDB is devoted to grazing. There is great variation in the types of grazing lands, from the improved pastures of the high-rainfall areas on the Basin’s eastern margins, to the semi-arid and arid native vegetation used for very extensive grazing in rangeland areas of south-west Queensland and the Western Division of NSW, with their saltbush, mulga and grassy plains (NRMWG 1996).
Sown pastures are used for grazing and hay production. Many consist of introduced plants, such as subterranean clovers (Trifoilium subterraneum L. cultivars), annual medics (Medicago species), serradella (Ornithopis compressus), and lucerne (Medicago sativa) (much of it produced under irrigation), and various perennial grasses. Much more attention is now being given to native grass species, partly as a result of recent extended droughts. This is just one of a number of important changes taking place in Australian agriculture.
Just as there are many types of grazing lands in the Basin, there are also many different types of livestock, quite apart from the main ones, sheep, beef cattle, and dairy cattle, that are considered below. Others include pigs, poultry, goats, deer, bees, ostriches, alpacas, and horses. In the arid lands to the south of Broken Hill and in south-west Queensland , as elsewhere in Australia ’s rangelands, there are very large numbers of feral goats, which are being crossed with stud goats to produce meat for export. Although Australia produces relatively small amounts of goat meat, we are the world’s largest exporter (Meat and Livestock Australia, 2004).
Paralleling the many types of grazing and livestock, are the different types of livestock production systems. There are very extensive arid and semi-arid pastoral lands of the western and north-western parts of the basin, dryland pastures, intensive irrigated pastures, beef feedlots, and highly intensive industrialised production of poultry, eggs, and pigs. The non-grazing intensive livestock operations are supported by the Basin’s cereal and fodder production.
In 2001 the total major livestock products, defined as beef, dairy (milk) and sheep (meat & wool) production, were valued at $5.5 billion and cover 73 per cent of the area of the MDB. The revenue from the MDB is 41 per cent of the Australian total of $13.4 billion.
Among the major livestock marketing centres are Wagga Wagga, Forbes, Dubbo, Tamworth , Gunnedah, Wodonga and Toowoomba.
Beef is Australia ’s largest single rural export. In 2001, there were 30.9 million hectares devoted to beef cattle which is 35% of the area of the MDB. Beef cattle slaughterings are valued at $1.9 billion, 29 per cent of the Australian total of $6.4 billion. Hides, leather and other commodities are produced in addition to meat. In 2001, Australian live beef, beef and veal exports were valued at $4.6 billion which is about 47 per cent of the total value of all agricultural exports of $9.7 billion.
Beef cattle production is yet another agricultural industry where seasonal conditions and international commodity prices are of critical importance. Beef cattle are grazed under a variety of pastoral and environmental conditions, though in the MDB they are grazed mainly on improved pastures (Figure 1).
Since the mid-1980s, there has been a major expansion of the feedlot industry that makes use of grains and other fodder crops, many of which are produced in the MDB. Much of the industry is foreign owned. Feedlots produce high quality meat for domestic and export markets, including those with very specific requirements such as Japan . There are significant environmental concerns relating to feedlots (together with other intensive livestock operations) because of the effluent they produce and the potential impacts on surface and groundwaters (GHD 1992).
There were 1.6 million hectares devoted to dairy cattle in 2001, which is nearly 2 per cent of the MDB. Milk production is valued at $1.8 billion, which is about 60 per cent of the Australian total value of $3 billion. The amount of milk production in the MDB (as a percentage of Australian production levels) has more than doubled since 1991.
There are three main dairying areas within the MDB (Figure 2). Two are primarily concerned with the fresh milk market, namely the Darling Downs and South Australia ’s Lower Murray , supplying Brisbane and Adelaide respectively. Of much greater importance are the Riverine Plains of northern Victoria and some of the adjoining areas of NSW, where, based on irrigated pastures, milk is produced mainly (though not entirely) for manufacturing. The Basin’s dairy industry is the major livestock activity dependent on irrigation.
Australia has more sheep than any other country in the world, although these numbers varies from year to year. Climatic conditions, the relative profitability of other commodities and prices for wool and meat are major factors in the size of the total flock. In 1997 there were 120 million sheep and lambs where this number had declined to 111 million in 2001 and to only 98 million in 2003 (ABS 1999, ABS 2003).
Sheep are grazed in a wide range of climatic and environmental conditions. Most are located in the Western Basin (see figure 3) where they are run in conjunction with cropping and also often with beef cattle. Sheep are grazed over 45.1 million hectares which is 51 percent of in the MDB. The value of sheep production from the MDB was $1.8 billion in 2000-01 which was 14 per cent of the Basin’s agricultural revenue and 47 per cent of all sheep and wool production from Australia in 2000-01.
Sheep are produced primarily for their wool and meat, together with associated products such as skins. Merinos are the dominant breed, important for their wool ( Douglas 1997).
As with most agricultural commodities, sheep slaughterings vary with seasonal conditions, especially in terms of mutton. Lambs sold for meat dominate sheep meat production. Much of it comes from the slopes and tablelands of New South Wales and Victoria , areas with higher rainfall and improved pastures. Prime lamb production is also found in some of the irrigation areas. In the other sheep producing areas, mutton and wool predominate ( Douglas 1997). Sheepskins and other products are also associated with sheep for meat production.
Wool is one of the most important commodities produced in Australia . Wool production in the MDB is noted for their fine and superfine wools especially from the areas including the Northern Tablelands, Mudgee and Yass districts of New South Wales and the Western districts of Victoria . Most of the Basin’s wool clip is exported, with only a small portion undergoing even initial processing within the MDB or at other locations in Australia.
Figure 3. Grazing areas for Livestock in the MDB (Source: Bryan & Mearvanek 2004)