Salinity and agriculture

This is a key issue affecting agriculture in Western Australia, particularly in the eastern parts of the region. The implications of dryland salinity to the agricultural industry are widespread and include reduced crop yield, area of arable land, land capability and should also include the growing need to meet community and market demands for environmentally responsible agriculture.

Salinity also affects rural infrastructure relied upon by the agricultural industry. About 250 km of main roads and 3850 km of local roads were estimated to be affected by dryland salinity (Sparks et al. 2006). The value of rail repair and maintenance costs in 2006 was $176 million. Dryland salinity severely impacts public and private water resources and biodiversity (Sparks et al. 2006). These costs are difficult to determine and therefore poorly documented.

The effects of salinity in the Great South West NRM Region are daunting

  • About 1.1 million hectares of agricultural land is severely affected by salt in the greater South West region (about 5% of the total) affecting productivity – this is about the size of 440 thousand MCG fields
  • About 4100 km of roads (250 km of main roads and 3850 km of local roads) are affected by dryland salinity, damaging bridges and the road base.
  • The value of rail repair and maintenance costs in 2006 was $176 million.
  • In areas cleared and developed for agriculture after 1960, most water tables continue to rise, despite a decline in annual rainfall.
  • Hydrological equilibrium and the potential extent of dryland salinity may take many decades to develop, especially in drier areas.

Data Source:

  • Department of Agriculture and Food, 2013.  Report card on sustainable natural resource use in agriculture: Status and trends in the agricultural areas of the south west of Western Australia. Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia. 188 pages.