2019 Winter - A thirst for certainty; irrigation in the Murray-Darling Basin

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FPJ1602D - Roth, G (2019), Seizing water research opportunities – a necessary grand challenge

FPJ1602D - Roth, G (2019), Seizing water research opportunities – a necessary grand challenge, in Farm Policy Journal, vol. 16, no. 2, Winter 2019, pp. 24-34, Surry Hills, Australia.

Our farmers are world leaders in terms of water productivity. The use of water drives regional economies. The centrality of water to our livelihoods, its finite stock, increasing demands on its use and a challenging climate means there is an immense need to improve how we use water through innovation. Infrastructure and engineering solutions alone will not provide long-term outcomes of producing more from water’s finite status.
Water, climate, energy, labour and soil are widely agreed as interrelated priorities with plenty of short-term research challenges. However, it’s time to tackle some long-term holy grails that would lead to the next wave of water efficiency and productivity gains. For example: evaporation from farm dams during summer is the major water loss pathway of the farm water balance and is an international problem requiring new innovations for solutions. Could we harness more water from the atmosphere or more cheaply from the oceans? Can we develop new sensors that measure soil water changes in robust environmental conditions at paddock scale down the soil profile – a geo-spatial moisture sensor? 
Water is the major limiting factor to regional Australia’s productivity, yet we do not have a long-term strategic research and development investment for it. It’s time for a decade of water innovation to springboard Australia to the forefront. This will require venture capital that targets solutions with commercial outcomes, as well as philanthropic and government investments given the centrality of water to livelihoods in both developed and undeveloped nations. It’s a necessary grand challenge.

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