Supporting irrigation regions to adapt and thrive in a changing climate

3 minute read

The Murray River at sunset

Researchers at the University of Melbourne are behind a collaborative initiative between industry, government and community to address significant challenges and support a resilient, sustainable Murray-Darling Basin and beyond. One Basin CRC will provide regionally based research, training and education to help rural communities, businesses and water managers adapt and thrive in the face of climate change.

Key points

  • One Basin CRC is a multi-partner initiative to strengthen the resilience of irrigation regions and support them to be productive, resilient and sustainable through a changing climate
  • The initiative is headquartered across four regional hubs in the Murray-Darling Basin while work will take place across locations beyond these, and research outputs will be translated for irrigation regions worldwide
  • Australia’s irrigation regions produce 50 per cent of Australia’s agricultural profits, with the Murray-Darling Basin accounting for two thirds
  • These regions are facing increasingly complex challenges due to climate change and must adapt to secure their future.

The outcome

One Basic CRC (Cooperative Research Centre) is a collaboration between many stakeholders, with key partners being the University of Melbourne, the Australian National University, Charles Sturt University, the Goyder Institute, Hort Innovation, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, Sensand Technologies and the University of Sydney.

The world-leading initiative, which is in the establishment phase of a ten-year term, aims to help basin communities be increasingly productive, resilient and sustainable.

Awarded a $50 million grant through the Commonwealth Cooperative Research Centres Program, One Basin CRC will tackle major agricultural, environmental and cultural water challenges, and test and demonstrate applications of various research outcomes. It will also commercialise and drive the adoption of new business models and innovative technologies that respond to challenging climate events and foster effective environmental stewardship.

Key to the initiative is on-the-ground research and working with industry and community, ensuring First Nations inclusion, recognition and respect. One Basin CRC CEO, Professor Stewardson says:

“Our approach is centred on co-design, which requires industry to identify their challenges and be part of the team developing solutions so that they are fit for purpose.”

Translating research outputs to transform irrigation regions across Australia as well as internationally is also important, in turn helping sustain Australia’s reputation as a leader in water and agricultural research.

CEO of the Mallee Regional Innovation Centre and Interim Lead for the CRC’s Mildura Regional Hub, Rebecca Wells, says:

“The One Basin CRC is very much a holistic approach to water management. It’s not only water focused, but also land and agriculture. There’s the tech overlay, the environment overlay, the social overlay. And it’s about working together to build knowledge and problem-solve to achieve sustainable outcomes for our partners and the regions they work in.”

Key outcomes of the partnership

  • Research programs – three interlinked programs to tackle major agricultural, environmental and cultural water challenges:
  1. The Foresight & Decisions Program – helping government, industry and communities prepare for a different future
  2. The Technology & Opportunity Program – growing and diversifying water sources and optimising the treatment, storage, delivery and use of water by developing on and off farm digital infrastructure
  3. The Capability & Commercialisation Program – co-designing services and strategies to support successful adaptation of farm enterprise and rural communities in the context of a changing Basin
  • Regional hubs – four strategically located regional hubs at Loxton, Mildura, Griffith and Goondiwindi enabling place-based research and development, and associated demonstration, evaluation, adaptation, and education and training activities.
  • Education and Training Program – to train the current and future generation of leaders, managers and workers to effectively manage risks and opportunities in a changing Basin. The program will provide critical capabilities in cutting-edge science, data and technology and will build knowledge, leadership and communication skills across key sectors.

The initiative, which was led by the University of Melbourne, has now transitioned into an independent company, with the University remaining a top tier partner.

The doors will officially open in early 2023. Preparation is underway with quick start projects – which were developed with partners during the bid phase and will form the initial projects for when the CRC opens, and regional forum events to set the agenda have taken place. Held at each regional hub, these events provided an opportunity for partners and the CRC leadership team to come together, face-to-face, and collaboratively identify the challenges to address first.

The need

Australia's irrigation regions are the powerhouse of Australia's agricultural sector, producing 50 per cent of the country’s agricultural profits from less than 1 per cent of the agricultural land and supporting many large commercial centres inland too.

The Murray-Darling Basin is particularly important. Stretching from eastern South Australia to central Victoria, across most of inland New South Wales to southern Queensland, it is home to 2.2 million people and supports 40 per cent of Australia’s agricultural production.

With great variability from year-to-year, many stakeholders, including communities, businesses, and water and agriculture managers, various areas of focus – from riverine ecology to hydrology, and vast geographical locations, water management is complex. Climate change is intensifying these challenges, and the need for water management and agriculture to adapt is increasingly pressing.

For irrigation communities to succeed into the future, new technologies, business models and skills are required. Solutions must be community and industry driven, and take into consideration the science, history and various perspectives and needs of communities and traditional owners.

Developing the solution

One Basin CRC was initially driven by University of Melbourne Professor Mike Stewardson as a natural extension of the success of the Mallee Regional Innovation Centre.

Professor Stewardson, who leads the One Basin CRC as CEO, says: “The idea was to scale the work of the Malle Regional Innovation Centre and extend to other sites to allow a basin-scale approach.”

In May 2022, One Basin CRC won the $50 million bid – the largest amount of funding to be awarded through the Commonwealth Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) Program – together with $106.5 million from partners.

Now an incorporated company, it will begin business in early 2023 after an establishment phase in close collaboration with community and industry. Says Ms Wells:

“There have been so many partners on board since the start. The Basin has many challenges, but with that comes opportunities and an appetite to collaborate in new and different ways. This is clear through the 85 partners that supported the bid.

“After establishment, we can begin the work of creating value and growing capacity as together we work to define the challenges and solve the pressing challenges of not only today but tomorrow and those on the horizon.”

Karen Hutchinson, the CRC's Irrigated Agriculture Industry Convenor from Murrumbidgee Irrigation, speaks similarly of how important coming together is on this initiative:

“The challenges of the future for irrigation industries go beyond doing more with less, they involve responding to greater variability and more climate extremes as well as increased competition for flow rate to deliver water to the right place at the right time. This means we need new solutions that truly understand network integration and enable the use of every drop – and more than once!

“The One Basin CRC brings together those who are invested in the Basins future with those who can think outside the box and those that can deliver industry-ready solutions. It’s an exciting partnership to be involved in.”

Partners

Tier 1 Partners

  • The University of Melbourne
  • The University of Sydney
  • The Australian National University
  • Charles Sturt University
  • The Goyder Institute
  • Hort Innovation
  • The Murray-Darling Basin Authority,
  • Sensand Technologies

Funding support

$50 million grant through the Commonwealth Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) Program

$106.5 million from 85 partners

People

See the One Basin CRC website for the full team.

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