Comparing Organic and Conventional Irrigation Water

Ecological Economics - Sarah Ann Wheeler , Alec Zuo Adam Loch

Type: Research Paper
Knowledge level: Advanced

Farm Table says:

This research asks the question - does organic farming use irrigation water more productively and efficiently? Results appear to be inconclusive.

Watering the farm in the Murray–Darling Basin

What is the problem?

A number of high-level reports suggest that water crises, not a lack of arable land, is the number-one risk facing the world in terms of impact on societies.

The research examines the role that certified-organic farming systems play in irrigation water-use in the Murray– Darling Basin, where large-scale government policy has focused on returning water from irrigation to key ecological sites. Information from Australia’s agricultural census in 2011.

What did the research involve?

Literature review + irrigator survey + modelling.

What were the key findings?

  • organic irrigators use significantly less of their allocation received from their water ownership than conventional irrigators
  • organic farms use less water for every dollar of net farm income they receive
  • both the ABS Census and regression analysis suggested that on the whole organic farms may fare worse in water-use efficiency, while they found very little significant difference in water-use/hectare
  • analysis of ABS Census information suggested that there were significant improvements in water-use efficiency in broad acre and pasture conventional farms over organic, though horticultural organic’s water-use efficiency matched conventional much more closely
  • there was significant evidence to suggest that organic farming performed best in terms of water-use productivity. From an economic perspective, water-use productivity is the most important variable as it represents the actual net dollar value earned by the farm

Final Comment

This study highlight that infrastructure may not necessarily be the most effective way to improve/conserve water-use. It is recommended that a more integrated and comprehensive policy should be devised for future Australian agricultural water policy.

2015 - Ecological Economics - Sarah Ann Wheeler , Alec Zuo Adam Loch
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