Future proofing water security for Australia’s chicken meat industry

Key points

  • New research shows Australian chicken meat production is highly water efficient.
  • As competition for water increases, the chicken meat industry is well positioned to deliver greater economic value than most other commodities.
  • The report has identified that there are both on-farm and off-farm opportunities to improve water security for the chicken meat industry. This includes pathways to improve water allocation security and the implementation of new technologies.

Australia is facing unprecedented water shortages in response to a changing climate and rising demand for water which presents a serious challenge for the local chicken meat industry.

New research funded by AgriFutures Chicken Meat Program and delivered by Integrity Ag and Environment, has addressed this challenge head on, investigating water use and water security in Australian chicken breeder farms, hatcheries, grow-out farms, and processing plants.

Future proofing water security for Australia’s chicken meat industry

The Australian chicken meat industry currently delivers more economic and nutritional value per megalitre of water than other meat products and horticultural industries. It’s now focused on finding ways to get smarter about its future water security.

Delivering the most value per megalitre

Compared to other Australian agricultural commodities, chicken meat production was found to be highly water efficient. Chicken meat outperforms all of the comparison horticultural and meat products assessed in the study for both economic and nutritional value per megalitre of water required.

Marty Robinson, Integrity Ag and Environment, Environmental Engineer has worked to deliver the research project over the past 18 months with lead researcher Eugene McGahan, Integrity Ag and Environment, Agricultural and Environmental Engineer.

Mr Robinson said, “We were pleased to find that the chicken meat industry is one of Australia’s top performers for water use efficiency. That makes it one of the most economically valuable industries in Australian agriculture and that’s something consumers and policymakers alike should know about.”

Pathways to water productivity

According to Annie Lane, AgriFutures Australia Manager, Research (Chicken Meat) the intent of the research was to identify and recommend clear pathways to improve water productivity for the chicken meat industry in order to future proof its water security.

“The research has given us not only a robust knowledge base about the industry’s water use but also a number of real solutions to improve water security. These include some close loop options as well as water allocation or licensing policy settings that can be changed.”

“As competition for water increases, the Australian chicken meat industry is strongly positioned to deliver greater economic value than most other agricultural commodities. “Knowing how water efficient the chicken meat industry is will help us to engage effectively with regulators and policymakers to improve future water security,” Ms Lane added.

Options for improved water security

Even given its positive scorecard for water efficiency the chicken meat industry is far from being complacent about water security. The possibility of future water scarcity due to climate change and increased competition for the resource means chicken meat producers are considering all water security options available along the industry’s supply chain.

The research project identified and tested the viability of a number of the available options.

“I want chicken meat producers to know that there are real and viable options for improving water security out there that they can implement now,” said Mr Robinson.

“It’s critical that new technologies and approaches be considered as design elements for any future developments of new facilities or retrofits of existing facilities. Trading water, covering runoff dams to reduce evaporation, water-efficient cooling methods and advanced water treatment plants are some of the options that producers could implement over the next five years.”

He added, “Many of these water security options have already been implemented successfully at farms and processing plants in Australia so there are examples people can look to.”

“Then of course we also have a watching brief on emerging water security technologies like managed aquifer recharge (MAR) which is now proven at a commercial scale in Western Australia.”

Establishing an industry benchmark

Speaking about what’s next for the industry and furthering water security Mr Robinson said there’s more work to be done to develop a complete picture of how the chicken meat industry uses water. “The next step after this research project is to develop a national benchmark based on a holistic life cycle assessment of all the chicken meat industry supply chains in Australia.”

The research report Water security in the chicken meat industry was produced by Integrity Ag and Environment, with funding from the AgriFutures Chicken Meat Program.

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