Tony Gleeson, Synapse Research & Consulting
Alex Dalley, Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry, Dili, East Timor
prepared for the 2006 Australian State of the Environment Committee, 2006
Pressures on the land resource in the ILZ come principally from human settlements and agriculture. Pressures from human settlement are comprehensively explored in (Newton 2006).
Pressures on the land resource from agriculture relate primarily to the magnitude of agricultural production and to the nature of agricultural production practices, both mediated to some extent by climatic conditions.
Since European settlement, farmers have transformed much of the Australian rural landscape for agricultural production. Farmers now occupy virtually all of the ILZ, the focus for this commentary.
There has been a sustained and substantial growth in agricultural production over the past 40 to 50 years, notwithstanding large between-year fluctuations that are principally due to variable weather conditions. For instance, the Productivity Commission (2005) calculated the growth in agricultural output to have averaged 2.4 per cent between 1963–64 and 2003–04 and Gleeson and Piper (2002) reported an increase in the volume of agricultural production of about 100 per cent between 1981 and 2001.
These increases in agricultural production have occurred notwithstanding the proportion of the Australian landmass used for agriculture remaining reasonably constant at about 60 per cent. Farmers also utilise about 70 per cent of all water allocated for irrigation, domestic, recreational and industrial use and much of this water has been made available only over the past four to five decades (Synapse Research & Consulting and Bob Hudson Consulting 2005).
These factors and others combine to increase the pressure from agriculture on the land resource, pressures ameliorated to some extent by crop and livestock genetic improvement and by improved management practices, in particular the widespread use of no and minimum tillage and improved livestock grazing strategies.