Improving on-farm water use efficiency

Dairy Australia has released a summary of the final report for the second phase of its six-year Smarter Irrigation for Profit research project, providing invaluable insights for Australian farmers around effective irrigation.

The Smarter Irrigation for Profit - Phase 2 project (also known as SIP2) is a partnership between the dairy, cotton, horticulture, rice and grain sectors. It is funded by each of the industries involved with support from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry as part of its Rural R&D for Profit program.

The research is already helping farmers across Australia make better irrigation decisions, which can improve water use efficiency and lead to greater profit.

Matt Brett is one New South Wales dairy farmer embracing the new irrigation technology and forecasting tools. Matt is the farm manager at the NSW Department of Primary Industries' Tocal dairy, located in the lower Hunter Valley.

Tocal was one of 10 Dairy Optimisation sites that were established across the seven dairy regions of mainland Australia as part of SIP2 to capture data for up to three irrigation seasons or defined irrigation periods.

Matt said the program demonstrated the value of soil moisture probes and weather forecasting information to improve water use efficiency, regardless of the seasonal conditions.

"It made sure we optimised every bit of pasture growth," Matt said.

"That means getting the maximum amount of dry matter, which helps push towards an extra cut of silage over the year. Maximising the amount of conserved feed helps profitability."

Another dairy farmer to benefit from this research is Will Russell. Will - along with his parents Rob and Pip - farm at Jellat Jellat, located just outside Bega.

For Will, the biggest gains had come from improved and more accurate irrigation timing - especially at the start of the irrigation season.

"It has enabled us to grow more pasture consistently," he said.

The project found increased water productivity was gained from implementing the following key irrigation principles:

  • Maintain irrigation systems to ensure efficient and effective operation.
  • Determine Readily Available Water (RAW) for each soil type being irrigated.
  • Use a water balance calculator tool to inform irrigation scheduling decisions to apply water at the right time and right rate to maintain soil moisture in the RAW zone.
  • Monitor forecast ETo and rainfall information to assist in more immediate decisions.
  • Monitor soil moisture, using professionally installed soil moisture monitors and reliable telemetry, to inform irrigation start-up decisions at the commencement of the season or after rainfall events.
  • Commence irrigation on-time at the beginning of the season or after rainfall to avoid a green drought scenario where future irrigation is ineffective.
  • Know the capacity of the system and schedule irrigation accordingly to maintain soil moisture requirements whilst deploying other cost-effective measures (e.g. off-peak power).
  • Maintain soil moisture within the RAW zone to create the ideal platform for strategic nitrogen use.

Download the summary of the final report here.

Find out more about the SIP2 project and access the tools and resources generated by the research here.

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