Sustainable expansion of irrigated agriculture and horticulture in Northern Adelaide Corridor

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Project Partners:

CSIRO, University of South Australia, The University of Adelaide, Flinders University, and SARDI

Research Theme:

Water for Industry


Project Overview

The primary policy driver for the Northern Corridor research program is the Northern Economic Plan, the SA Government’s blueprint for a prosperous northern Adelaide, focused on creating jobs and empowering local communities. The plan includes two major initiatives for agribusiness. The Northern Adelaide Plains Agribusiness Initiative includes the development of three key projects to expand the region’s agriculture, food and beverage sectors:

  • Northern Adelaide Irrigation Scheme to provide an additional 20 gigalitres of recycled water;
  • optimisation and production efficiency to implement best practice irrigation technology and improved management techniques; and,
  • a market access and development project to get South Australian food and beverage into global markets.

The Northern Adelaide Food Park will establish a dedicated precinct to enable food and beverage processors, manufacturers and other service related providers to co-locate, and access common infrastructure and services on one site. It will encourage sharing of information on processes, products and markets, particularly for export purposes.

There are a number of gaps in underlying knowledge that need to be filled in order to enable decisions to be made in an informed manner including:

  1. a lack of knowledge of current soil attributes which are needed to assist model predictions of the impacts of using recycled water and develop guidelines for the sustainable use of recycled water;
  2. a lack of understanding of the impact of water from different sources / of different quality on water-soil biochemical process interactions;
  3. a lack of understanding of the fate of nutrients from different sources on receiving waters and effects from variable irrigation water quality on the long-term sustainability of the land’s ability to grow crops;
  4. a lack of knowledge of the amount of water of different quality that is able to be supplied at different times of the year;
  5. a lack of knowledge of the depth to shallow (often saline) groundwater which would be affected by increased recharge from expanded irrigation; and,
  6. the extent of resilient and also vulnerable areas where further irrigation expansion could proceed subject to additional works and management practices being assured (such as interception and removal of shallow, saline groundwater).

Progress Update and Key Findings

The key management question addressed by the research project was: how can the water resources available to the Northern Corridor region be best used to optimise the development of industries that generate new employment opportunities in the NC region in a sustainable way and not result in long term and not result in long term environmental problems resulting in reduced productivity and legacy costs for industry, landowners, local and State government to deal with and address?

There were two areas of investigation:

  1. How can the range of water sources available to the area be delivered, stored and combined to provide the required quantities of water at the quality required for the most likely new industries?
  2. Which areas of in the Northern Corridor are most suitable for new irrigation industries and how should irrigation in these areas be managed to avoid causing long-term adverse impacts on the condition of soils, groundwater and the surface water environments?

The research was structured into five distinct tasks:

  1. Development and optimisation of modelling domain and impact assessment of irrigation expansion on the receiving environment. This involved establishing the baseline status of the receiving environment (soil) and identifying vulnerabilities and constraints in terms of use of irrigation waters of different qualities to provide a benchmark for future monitoring designed to evaluate the sustainability and long-term changes and rates of change in the receiving environment. Further to this, scenarios (representing receiving environments of varying soil types/status) were undertaken for impact modelling.
  2. Modelling nutrient and chemical fate, including salinity/sodicity risk, as the basis for identifying longevity of recycled water utilization and mitigation strategies under current and future climate.
  3. Source water options / Water availability, quality and storage considerations.
  4. Assessment of Depth to Groundwater with the development of a proof of concept for a rapid assessment of a hydrogeophysical method for estimating shallow groundwater depths and identifying possible localised management/infrastructure needs.
  5. Management and integration of the outcomes from all tasks.

Project Impacts

Specific outcomes from the project included collation of current knowledge on the impacts of using recycled water, and stormwater and groundwater of various quality for irrigation; and filling key research gaps identified at various stakeholder-researcher workshops as holding back economic development (related to expansion of irrigated horticulture) along the Northern Adelaide Corridor (defined as the coastal plains region between northern Adelaide and Whyalla).

Research Outputs

Sustainable expansion of irrigated agriculture and horticulture in Northern Adelaide Corridor: Task 5 - summary report.

Sustainable expansion of irrigated agriculture and horticulture in Northern Adelaide Corridor: Task 4 – assessment of depth to groundwater (proof of concept)

Sustainable Expansion of Irrigated Agriculture and Horticulture in Northern Adelaide Corridor: Task 3 - source water options; water availability, quality and storage considerations

Sustainable expansion of irrigated agriculture and horticulture in Northern Adelaide Corridor: Task 2 - modelling nutrient and chemical fate to support the long-term sustainability of the use of recycled water

Sustainable expansion of irrigated agriculture and horticulture in Northern Adelaide Corridor: Task 1 – baseline soil properties

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