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Adapting to a Water Scarce Future

The Millennium drought resulted in severe cuts to water allocations and the introduction of significant water policy reform to return water from a consumptive to environmental use. Drought and policy reform have inflicted significant economic, social and personal stress on the MDB’s rural communities.

Farming communities have also faced falling commodity prices, increasing input costs, continuing population decline, decreasing rural services (such as education and health) and increasing environmental issues. The reduction in water allocations during the drought led to a large number of farmers exiting irrigation.

Increased climate stress may result in adverse mental health outcomes for MDB rural community members. Future climate change will likely mean that they will endure the issues mentioned above, along with extensive periods of drought, further exacerbating the potential for stressors linked with farming lifestyles to culminate in suicide. These issues may further erode the capacity of farmers to cope in the future; hence there is a great need to understand how we can design policies to reduce the stress associated with farming.

  • What is the project about?
    Our project aims to gain a greater understanding of farmer behaviour and adaptation to water stress by focussing on water use and water market behaviour. In particular it aims to understand:

    - the drivers of farm exit across regions
    - some of the consequences for farmers of severe stress, in particular, issues associated with farmer suicide and mental depression

    We are collecting wide-spread interviews; in person and via telephone. The project is funded by Academic Research Council and the University of Adelaide.

  • Who is undertaking the project?
    The project is being run by Associate Professor Sarah Wheeler and Dr Adam Loch from Global Food Studies, University of Adelaide. Both Sarah and Adam have rural farming backgrounds, and have published extensively on irrigation and farming issues in the MDB.

    A professional survey company is undertaking the survey on behalf of the University.

  • Telephone survey
    From October to November 2015 we will be conducting a telephone survey across the southern Murray-Darling Basin (South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales). We are looking to interview around 1,000 irrigators in total.

    Irrigators will be randomly selected for interview, and interviews will be organised to be held at a time that is most convenient for them. The interview time takes about 15-20 minutes.

    What questions will irrigators be asked?

    - your farm history and characteristics of your farm (e.g. water ownership, type of farm, water market participation issues);
    - your views towards farm exit, both personal exit and exit within your local community;
    - coping strategies and/or water conserving methods you apply in times of stress;
    - attitudes towards environmental water; and
    - issues surrounding farmer mental health issues, how common/prevalent it is, how best to address these issues and policy solutions.

    What are the risks or benefits associated with participating in this survey?

    There are minimal risks associated with this survey; all information will be kept totally confidential and no names/farm addresses will be stored with survey information.

    Participation in the interview is voluntary; farmers can choose not to participate in this research at all and you can terminate your involvement at any time.

    Irrigators who participate will benefit by a) receiving a $10 gift card for their participation and b) receiving an overview of the survey results after the survey concludes.

  • Contact
    Associate Professor Sarah Wheeler
    Phone: 0883139130

    Dr Adam Loch
    Phone: 0883139131

    The study has been approved by the Human Research Ethics Committee at the University of Adelaide (approval number H-2015-226). Contact the Human Research Ethics Committee’s Secretariat on phone +61 8 8313 6028 or by email to

  • How to participate?
    You can contact the main researchers to be asked to be included on the contact list. Due to the fact that irrigators will be randomly selected for interview, you may or may not subsequently be approached.

The Centre for Global Food and Resources

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10 Pulteney Street
The University of Adelaide SA 5005
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Telephone: +61 8 8313 0087
Staff Directory: The Centre for Global Food and Resources