In the coming decades, agriculture and land management within the Goulburn Murray region will face many major changes, including many challenges. To prepare for and confront an unpredictable future head on, the region will build its resilience collectively. Resilience is more than survival. Resilience is about thriving in the face of change.
Challenges and trends
The Goulburn Murray region is a complex dynamic system with many interacting elements that influence each other in predictable and unpredictable ways. The system is changing. While some of the change is outside our control (climate, global markets, technology), we can shape our response to change and continue to create opportunities.
The world is changing more quickly than ever before. It is impossible to predict exactly how the region will change in the future. Traditional approaches to planning are not well suited to these uncertain conditions. The best approach is to build our region’s capacity to cope with a wide range of possible futures. We can do this by applying resilience thinking.
Over the last twenty years, there has been an almost 50% net decline in water resources. This is due to a combination of climate change, water recovery as part of the Murray Darling Basin Plan, changes to water policy and competition for water from outside the region.
Living with variability in water availability is already a feature of agriculture in the Goulburn Murray region. Supply and demand determine water price and competing industries buy or sell water at different price points.
Human activity is causing climate change, through our release of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels, land use change and agriculture. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide are now more than 40% higher than they were before industrialisation.
The Goulburn Murray region has been getting warmer and drier. The region can expect temperatures to continue to increase year round; more hot days and warm spells; fewer frosts; less rainfall in autumn, winter and spring; and more frequent and more intense downpours. By the 2050s the climate of Shepparton could be more like Griffith, NSW, while Swan Hill will be more like Balranald, NSW.
In line with national trends, there are fewer and larger farms, with increasing production efficiency. Increasing scale, combined with mechanisation and automation, leads to reduced demand for labour and rural depopulation.
There are also increasing numbers of rural residential properties that are supported by off farm income. This leads to fragmentation of agricultural land parcels. Pressure is growing for supply of this class of property, particularly close to larger towns such as Shepparton.
RIRDC and CSIRO completed a foresight study of Australian agriculture and rural industries. The narrative of the future is told through a set of interlinked megatrends impacting Australia and the wider global world over the coming 20 years. Population growth will drive demand for food and fibre. A growing middle income class will increase consumption and diversify diets. Consumers will be more choosy for health, ethical and environmental reasons. Advances in science and technology will change the way food and fibre is produced. Risk profiles will shift in response to climate change and globalisation.
The regional foundations are strong. There is plentiful land, with high quality soils, to support a variety of agricultural commodities. There is higher rainfall relative to other parts of the southern Murray Darling Basin. A diverse services sector exists, combined with ample processing and value-add capacity. The modernised, low energy, water supply system can provide high levels of service. Government, industry and community leaders are also committed to working collaboratively.
The dairy industry plays an important role in the regional economy and is currently in transition. Consolidations continues on farms and in processing, and farm systems are diversifying away from being dominated by grazing of irrigated pastures. Regional milk production has declined by a third since 2000.
The industry remains confident in its future with a positive demand pattern driven by the Asian market. The investment trend is towards housed and barn style dairy which offers increased water use efficiency and improved feedbase risk management.
Horticulture has continued to slowly expand and increase its water use over the last 50 years. The industry is focussed on fresh market fruit, a departure from previous decades where processing dominated. The trend for fresh fruit will continue due to higher values and a renewed interest in fresh fruit export. Expansion of annual horticulture is also occurring with vegetable production moving further from Melbourne. There are also opportunities in high value niche markets.
There is opportunity for further diversification in land use and production across the Goulburn Murray region. Growth in intensive shedded agriculture is expected, including glasshouses, piggeries and poultry. There is potential to increase indigenous food and fibre production and cultural tourism. There is opportunity to increase on-farm value adding, including via agri-tourism. Growth in demand for alternative renewable energy production could also stimulate new industry.
If you would like to find out more about the Goulburn Murray Resilience Strategy, email Goulburn.Partnership@rdv.vic.gov.au