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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
Under the proposed recommendations, the annual salinity impact charge is expected to decrease by 25 per cent of the current rate.
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:
Salinity impact charges are set out in the Ministerial Determination of Salinity Impact Zones and Salinity impact charges.
While any new irrigation development commencing in 2021/22 would pay the capital charges of;
$39.22/ML in Low Impact Zone 1
$100.66/ML in Low Impact Zone 2
$201.38/ML in Low Impact Zone 3
$402.81/ML in Low Impact Zone 4
$830.57/ML in High Impact Zone
See detailed table below.