AUSTRALIAN agriculture had a bumper year in 2016-17, according to data released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) which showed a 9 per cent increase in value to $60.8 billion.
ABS director of environment and agriculture statistics, Lauren Binns, said the data confirmed that 2016-17 was a good year for agriculture with above average yields and record production for many broadacre crops such as wheat, barley and canola.
“Total crop values in 2016-17 rose by one fifth (20 per cent) compared with the previous year, while total livestock values were steady overall,” Ms Binns said.
Many farmers reported crop yields being at ‘once in a lifetime’ levels, with records broken in most states for key commodities. Compared with the previous year, the value of wheat grew by nearly one fifth (19pc) to $7.3 billion in 2016-17, with production up by 43pc.
The value of barley rose by 17pc to $2,658 million with production up by half on the previous year. The value of canola, meanwhile, rose by nearly two thirds (63pc) to $2,412 million.
Sugarcane was another star performer. Strong export demand and good prices for sugar resulted in an increase in value of more than one quarter (27pc) to $1,624 million in 2016-17.
Results were more mixed for livestock. The value of livestock products was largely steady with a strong result for wool (up 17pc to $3.5 billion) offsetting falls in milk (down 14pc to $3.7 billion).
Declines in the value of livestock disposals were largely due to re-stocking. For example, the beef cattle herd increased 6pc to 23.6 million head in 2016-17 compared with the previous year, although there was a continuing decline in the dairy herd (-2pc) to 2.6 million head.
Agricultural water use
The ABS also found Australian farmers increased their water use by 4pc in 2016-17.
“Compared with the previous year, the total agricultural area watered increased by 4pc to 2.2 million hectares,” Ms Binns said.
“This was driven by increases in water availability for irrigation.
“The volume of water used for irrigation also rose, by 9pc to 9.1 million megalitres (ML) – that’s the equivalent of about 3.6 million Olympic swimming pools. The largest increase in volume of water applied was in New South Wales (up 46pc to 3.8 ML), primarily for rice and cotton crops.”
Many farmers took advantage of the increased water availability and favourable climatic conditions in 2016-17 to increase the area planted to irrigated crops. This water was predominantly sourced from irrigation channels and/or pipelines (up 20pc on the previous year), on-farm dams and tanks (up 35pc), rivers/creeks/lakes (up 20pc) and groundwater (down 23pc).
“The total area of land irrigated for rice increased by 214pc to 82,000 hectares. This was driven by a 237pc increase in New South Wales.”
The area watered for irrigated cotton increased by more than half (55pc) to 328,000 hectares in 2016-17, with New South Wales up 50pc and Queensland up 65pc.
“Greater availability of water for irrigation also saw production levels for irrigated crops return to pre-drought levels. The value of rice increased by 120pc from the previous year to $252 million in 2016-17 while cotton increased by a quarter (25pc) to $1,681 million,” Ms Binns said.
Australian farmers also spent less on irrigation in 2016-17 thanks to higher rainfall across most parts of Australia (down 3pc to $245 million) and purchased less extra water.
Water purchases on a temporary basis (this refers to extra water allocations that are purchased for a short period, rather than permanently) fell by nearly half (down 46pc) to $108 million, while permanent extra water purchases were also down by a half (down 49pc to $77 million).
More information on the 2016-17 crop is available in publications Value of Agricultural Commodities Produced, 2016-17(cat. no 7503.0) and Agricultural Commodities, 2016-17 (cat. no. 7121.0) available for free download from the ABS website.
Further details on water use are available in Water use on Australian farms (2016-17) (cat. no. 4618.0).
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