Land in the Mallee

It is recognised that there are several threatening processes which impact on the regions asset base that can be directly related to the management (both historical and current) of dryland agricultural land.

Dryland Agriculture

The Mallee region in Victoria is recognised nationally and internationally for its agricultural produce and is a key part of Victoria’s food bowl, with dryland cropping and grazing  covering 2.4 million hectares (over 60%) of the region. Over the past 30 years enormous change has occurred in the way the land is managed in the Mallee, driven by a common will to minimise soil erosion. Cultivation has reduced, the area sown to crop has increased, stubbles are mostly retained and livestock grazing is better managed to minimise erosion. The area of land with poor ground cover and high erosion risk has diminished.

Despite these positive changes, a range of threatening processes including climate change, salinisation, wind erosion, fertility decline, soil structure decline and loss of biodiversity present significant challenges to the sustainability of farming practices in the region. To achieve greater agricultural sustainability, stakeholders within the region are continuing to develop, define and enhance strategic and practical measures and adopt a regionally coordinated approach towards sustainable agriculture that enhances, strengthens and builds relationships.

In supporting this coordinated approach, Mallee CMA objectives and associated programs are directly informed by the Mallee Dryland Sustainable Agriculture Strategy.  Developed in partnership with key stakeholders, the Strategy details the strategic intent, priorities and roles of regional delivery partners; specifically aiming to:

  • Strengthen sustainable agriculture in the region through strategic and practical measures;
  • Provide a regionally coordinated approach towards sustainable agriculture that enhances and builds relationships between the region’s service providers, producers, manufacturers and consumers; and
  • Support future investment and additional resources to achieve sustainable agriculture in the region.

Irrigation and Salinity

 The groundwater that underlies much of the Mallee is saline and in many cases more salty than seawater. It is a natural feature of the region that if not managed appropriately can have a devastating impact on agriculture, the environment and Murray River water quality.

Salinity was a known problem in the Murray Darling Basin, but it took severe droughts in the 1960s to motivate landholders, communities and governments to take action. In the Victorian Mallee, when salinity was visibly damaging crops and the environment, it was forecast as an impending crisis. Irrigators, farmers and community members came up with far-reaching programs to manage and restore the landscape known today as the ‘Victorian Mallee Salinity Management Framework’. Their approach recognising that irrigation water leaving the farm was one of the primary contributors of salt to the Murray River and developed a series of salinity management plans in the 1990’s to address the threat.

The Salinity Management Framework developed in the salinity management plans includes a range of measures comprises:

  • salinity zones identifying high and low impact areas across the Murray River irrigation area;
  • cap and trade arrangements which restrict water trade into high impact zones;
  • assessment of irrigation development using development guidelines to ensure adoption of irrigation design standards, water efficiency and prevention of environment impact;
  • fees for irrigation development to offset salinity impacts and encourage development in low impact zones; and
  • irrigation incentives to modernise irrigation practices, reduce salinity and improve water efficiency.

The Mallee CMA is responsible for managing salinity in the region, delivering on the Victoria’s Sustainable Irrigation Program and ensuring compliance with obligations under the Basin Salinity Management 2030 Strategy. The CMA continues to implement the salinity management framework and build on the momentum of earlier salinity management plans through a Victorian Mallee Irrigation Region Land and Water Management Plan.

While the basin salinity management obligations are being met, and the salinity management framework has been very effective in reducing salinity within the Murray River, the threat remains. Highly saline groundwater levels are still above river levels and other low spots in the landscape. This continues to drive groundwater and salt towards the river, floodplains and wetland with the risk of causing ecological impacts and threats to water quality and agricultural productivity.

What are Salinity Impact Charges?

The Salinity impact charges consist of two charges that have been adjusted in accordance with the Consumer Price Index (CPI) each year; an ongoing annual charge and a one-off capital charge. These are based on the cost to build, operate and maintain a salt interception scheme. The charges are applied to the volume of Annual Use Limit (the maximum amount of water permitted to be applied to a parcel of land in one year) specified on each Water-Use Licence in a declared Salinity Impact Zone.

How have the charges, which have already been collected, been spent?

The charges have been used to mitigate and offset the salinity impact of irrigation development in the Nyah to South Australian Border region on the Murray River, consistent with Victoria’s obligations under the Murray-Darling Basin Agreement.

Examples of investment include:

  • irrigation incentives to assist irrigators to transition to efficient irrigation systems;
  • provision of irrigation management courses to promote irrigation best practice management;
  • ongoing monitoring of surface and groundwater; and,
  • research and investigation to improve understanding of salinity impacts such as the Mallee Crop Report.

What are the current salinity impact charges?

Salinity impact charges are set out in the Ministerial Determination of Salinity Impact Zones and Salinity impact charges.
For the 2019/20 financial year the annual charge was $4.75/ML/yr.

While any new irrigation development commencing in 2019/20 would pay the capital charges of;

$37.87/ML in Low Impact Zone 1
$97.18/ML in Low Impact Zone 2
$194.41/ML in Low Impact Zone 3
$388.88/ML in Low Impact Zone 4