Dairy Australia is partnering with the cotton, sugar, grain and rice industries in a project to deliver the benefits of new efficient water use technologies to Australian farmers.
Over half of dairy farmers nationally use irrigation and farms in some regions rely totally on irrigated water. 'Smart irrigation' can provide big efficiency benefits - the project aims to increase average farmer profits by $20,000-$40,000 annually.
As part of its contribution to the Smarter Irrigation for Profit phase II project (SIP2), the dairy industry has established 17 research and learning sites in dairy regions in Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and NSW, including the subtropical border area with Queensland.
Dairy Australia is helping to manage many of these sites.
Dairy Australia managing director, David Nation, said the collaboration of five rural research and development corporations, five universities and four governmental organisations underlined the importance of the project for Australian agriculture.
"Smarter Irrigation for Profit is one of Australian agriculture's major collaborative investments - it will be a game changer for many dairy farmers who rely on irrigation. Efficient water use is vital to sustain dairy farming in one of the most variable climates on earth," Dr Nation said.
Smarter Irrigation for Profit Project Phase II is supported by the Australian government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment as part of its Rural R & D for Profit program.
Dairy Australia is investing $1.7 million in the project, part of an overall dairy investment worth $7.7 million made possible by the support of Agriculture Victoria, the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture and University of Southern Queensland.
The total investment by all partners in the Smarter Irrigation for Profit project is $22 million, maximising the combined funding of levy paying farmers.
Group manager of Farm Profit and Capability, Peter Johnson, said Dairy Australia's participation in the project's first phase had shown big opportunities for dairy farmers to reduce costs by producing more feed from the same amount of water or less through better timing and scheduling of irrigation.
"The technologies we are trialling through our investment in Smarter Irrigation for Profit can really help farmers bottom lines, by improving water and energy use efficiency, maximising pasture growth, reducing labour intensity through automation and through improved utilisation of data," Mr Johnson said.
"The SIP2 optimisation sites involve local farms and the project aims to increase farm profit for 500 dairy farmers through adoption of technologies and practices that improve water productivity and irrigation performance.
"This knowledge can then be made available to farmers across the country."
Coraki Irrigation Optimisation site Sub Tropical Dairy
- 150ha farm, 110ha milking platform, 55ha mixed irrigation
- Milking herd: 400-470 Jersey cows (year-round calving)
- Annual ryegrass/kikuyu mixed pasture system.
- Surface Water Entitlement: 565 ML pump (66 kW, 90 HP, 50Hz)
- Flow-meter fitted at the mainline near the pump house.
Optimisation site irrigation system
- Solid set sprinkler
Technologies being trialled
Three 40 centimetre EnviroPro® capacitance probes with Wildeye® logger/telemetry have been installed at the foot, middle and tail of the rectangular site.
Multi soil moisture monitors will provide improved insight into the true uniformity and rate of application of a solid set system over time.
Probe sensor readings are taken at 10cm increments every hour and this data can be accessed via a smartphone.
IrriPasture and Pasture.io have been adopted as decision support tools.
Yield measurements are taken using a rising plate meter before and after grazing.
We feel that we can maximise efficiency and growth potential of our pastures by knowing where our soil moisture is at.
Brian Chappelle, Fairdale Farm
When Brian Chappelle took over the family farm in 2018, the young farmer was enthusiastic to learn from those more experienced in the region but he also knew he and wife Lizzy wanted to explore new strategies.
"Our new fixed irrigation system has given us the capacity to apply irrigation to meet plant requirements. What we now need to know is how energy efficient our system is to make sure that we are getting a good return for our investment," Mr Chappelle said.
"We feel that we can maximise efficiency and growth potential of our pastures by knowing where our soil moisture is at.
"The SIP2 project is providing an opportunity for us to learn more about what data is critical to schedule irrigation more effectively and how to maximise our yield during the winter ryegrass period into early summer.
"This is the window of growth opportunity for us."
The farm's irrigation measurement period is from July to December.
Current rainfall in the region and wet conditions have meant irrigation has yet to play a part in the season.
Coraki Site Coordinator, Peter Hutton, said Brian had proven how quickly farmers can adapt to new technology, as he was regularly checking data from soil moisture probes on his smartphone to inform decision-making.
Mr Hutton said the project was important to not only understand what's happening on the ground and to optimise practices but also assess the value dairy farmers derive from the high-cost investment in irrigation.
At the site, the project will address how scheduling irrigation in response to soil moisture and water balance information might improve water and power efficiency compared to the current approach and how it might enable annual ryegrass to reach its yield potential.
Smarter Irrigation for Profit phase II is supported by funding from the Australian government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment as part of its Rural R&D for Profit program. It is led by the Cotton Research and Development Corporation in partnership Dairy Australia, Grains Research and Development Corporation, AgriFutures Australia, Sugar Research Australia and nine research organisations. It builds on the project's successful first phase launched in 2015.
For more information contact a site coordinator in your region or visit: dairyaustralia.com.au/farm/land-water-carbon/water-and-irrigation/smarter-irrigation-for-profit
Get involved in a SIP2 site
- Western Australia - Dardanup. Contact: Peter Hutton email@example.com
- South Australia - Mt Compass. Contact: Beck Burgess firstname.lastname@example.org
- South Australia - Mt Gambier. Contact: Kylie Boston email@example.com
- Western Victoria - Mepunga East. Contact: Graeme Ward firstname.lastname@example.org
- Murray Dairy -Tongala. Contact: Lisa Menhennett email@example.com
- Gippsland - East Sale. Contact: Alexis Killoran firstname.lastname@example.org
- Gippsland - Yarram. Contact: Alexis Killoran email@example.com
- NSW - Bega. Contact: Kym Revington firstname.lastname@example.org
- NSW - Tocal. Contact: Peter Smith email@example.com
- NSW - Coraki. Contact: Peter Hutton firstname.lastname@example.org