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Smarter Irrigation for Profit

The Smarter Irrigation for Profit - Phase 2 (SIP2) project is a partnership between the dairy, cotton, horticulture, rice and grain sectors, supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment as part of its Rural R&D for Profit program and each of the industries involved.

The first phase of the project (SIP1) was conducted between 2015 and 2018. The outcomes were significant for the dairy industry in identifying irrigation management practices that were constraining optimal yield of pastures and crops on irrigated areas.

SIP1 measured the outcomes of amended irrigation strategies and technologies on five 'Optimisation Irrigation Dairy Farms' in Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia. All SIP1 sites increased energy and water use efficiency,  dry matter grown per hectare per day and the overall yield within a specified irrigation period.

These results were achieved by improving irrigation practices such as timing of start-up, using technologies to inform irrigation scheduling and conducting system and pump checks. SIP1 showed that improved water productivity hinged on “getting the basics right.”

SIP2 has been developed using the findings from SIP1.  There are four dairy projects within SIP2 (2019 – 2022) with the collective aim to get the irrigation fundamentals right on farm, increase adoption of existing technologies and explore the potential of new strategies and technologies not yet adopted in dairy. These are:

  • What's my yield gap?  Maximising water productivity - Dairy Australia
  • Beyond Water Smart – Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture 
  • Scaling irrigation management to support whole farm operations – Agriculture Victoria 
  • Precise real time automated irrigation for cotton and dairy – University of Southern Queensland and Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture 

SIP2: The next phase for dairy


SIP2: What's my yield gap? Maximising water productivity

This project aims to fast-track adoption of SIP1 key findings through trials, measurement and benchmarking on 10 Dairy Optimisation Sites through the seven dairy regions on the mainland.  Measures including yield and water/power efficiency will be determined  by collecting data using standard water productivity and economic metrics across all sites.

All Australian dairy regions have businesses that use irrigation, but the types of application and agronomic systems are diverse. For this reason, new technologies and strategies are being trialled and evaluated in a local context, with input from farmers and service providers of the Dairy Optimisation Site reference group.

Measuring outcomes for dairy

To measure the dairy specific outcomes of the What’s my yield gap? Maximising Water productivity project, standard metrics and measurement equipment has been applied at each site. This will maximise industry-wide impact and  assessment of the efficiency and production outcomes of adopting certain irrigation practices and innovations.

These include:

  • Soil moisture monitors installed: capacitance probes, real-time telemetry and app-accessible reporting to monitor the effectiveness of irrigation and rainfall on soil moisture
  • Irrigation system and pump evaluations:  baseline versus improved system efficiencies, Yield monitoring on farm including using growth rate and yield measures to compare against satellite measurement systems including
  • Irrigation scheduling using IrriPasture, an online weather-based water balance calculator. IrriPasture has been further developed to include crops such as maize, sorghum and millet as well as lucern, shallow rooted perennial and annual pastures.


Below is the standard reporting table being used.

Dry Matter






DM production


Water Use


Energy Use


Growth rate


Water costs

 Total costs($)

Energy costs

 Total costs ($)





(per metre head pumped)


Dairy Australia is ensuring farmers have access to the latest information to achieve pasture and crop yield potential from irrigation water while improving input efficiency of water, power and labour to increase farm profit. 

  • SIP1: Key findings for dairy

    1. Many operators are not getting the basics right. Conducting annual system checks including pumps, getting the start-up time right and avoiding the ‘green drought’ increased productivity by 40% on some sites.
    2. Variable rate irrigation can achieve productivity gains of 30%.
    3. Autonomous irrigation is feasible for dairy and has potential for wider application.

    SIP 1 recommended increased water productivity for dairy can be achieved by swiftly adopting a number of cost-effective key fundamentals:

    • Maintain the irrigation system to ensure efficient and effective operation. Start with a comprehensive irrigation system performance evaluation and implement recommendations. Use available system check lists to prepare for the coming season as an ongoing measure.
    • Use water balance calculation tools to inform irrigation scheduling decisions to apply water at the right time and right rate to maintain soil moisture in the readily available water (RAW) zone of the soil profile.
    • 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. This technology provides a measurement of the effectiveness of rainfall and irrigation on rising or maintaining soil moisture to within the RAW zone.
    • Know the capacity of the irrigation system and schedule irrigation accordingly to maintain soil moisture requirements whilst deploying cost-effective measures such as the use of off-peak power. Potential for the irrigation system to raise soil moisture to the RAW zone for plant growth can become limited by the system's capacity if soil moisture levels are depleted in that zone.
    • Measure to monitor: Ensure usage, cost of energy and water can all be monitored against production outcomes. This means monitoring energy bills, installing a flow-meter and taking pasture measurements.
    • Maintaining soil moisture within the RAW zone creates the ideal platform for strategic nitrogen use.
Climate and Environment
Soils and Water
Climate and Environment

Catch Can Testing

Video iconVideo and Webinar

Improving irrigation efficiency

See how Catch Can Testing can improve irrigation efficiency and consequently reduce GHG emissions on dairy farms
Climate and Environment
Farm Business
Climate and Environment

Profitable Irrigation Pumping

Video iconVideo and Webinar

Reducing emissions with moving water

Learn how Rex Tout (Loomberah, NSW) is reducing energy consumption and cost through improved efficiencies in pump system design, maintenance and operation.
Climate and Environment
Farm Business
Climate and Environment

System Maintenance

Video iconVideo and Webinar

Benefits of an irrigation system maintenance check

See how a systems maintenance check on pressurized irrigation systems can reduce GHG emissions.
Climate and Environment
Farm Business
Climate and Environment

System Maintenance Check-lists

Scroll to “Management and System Check-lists” 

Improved flow on irrigation bays- benefit of spinner cuts

Video iconVideo and Webinar

Improved Irrigation Flow

Senior Research Scientist Mike Morris explains the benefits of Improved Irrigation Flow.
Climate and Environment
Soils and Water
Climate and Environment

Irrigation scheduling

Video iconVideo and Webinar

Optimising irrigation potential

Hear from James Hill about the mechanics of a Green Drought and how monitoring and evaluation can optimise irrigation efficiency and reduce GHG emissions.
Climate and Environment
Farm Business
Climate and Environment
Soils and Water

Advanced data-driven irrigation: Where are the losses?

Video iconVideo and Webinar

2018 DRF Symposium: James Hills

Session 2: Advanced Data-Driven Irrigation: Where are the Losses?
Climate and Environment
Soils and Water
Soils and Water

What is evapotranspiration and how do I use it to schedule irrigations?

Soil moisture monitoring

Video iconVideo and Webinar

Soil Moisture Monitoring

The Hunter Starting Smarter Project uses soil moisture monitoring to better gauge when irrigation should commence.
Climate and Environment
Soils and Water
Industry Statistics

Dairy Australia Soil Moisture Monitoring Information Sheet

Irrigation New Zealand Soil Moisture Monitoring Guide

Useful websites

Local Dairy Optimisation Sites

Western Australia – Dardanup

Contact: Sam Taylor on

South Australia – Mt Compass

Contact: Cathy Ashby on

South Australia – Mt Gambier

Contact: Cathy Ashby on

Western Victoria – Mepunga East

Contact: Graeme Ward on

Murray Dairy – Tongala

Contact: Shane Byrne on

Gippsland - MID - Cobains

Contact: Robyn McLean on or Billy Marshall on

Gippsland – Yarram

Contact: Robyn McLean on or Billy Marshall on

NSW – Bega

Contact: Kym Revington on

NSW – Tocal

Contact: Peter Smith on

NSW – Coraki

Contact: Ross Warren on

Pre-season checklists

Pre-season checklist

  • Pre-season Checklist Bike Shift Irrigation

    PDF192.63 KB
  • Pre-season Checklist Travelling Irrigators

    PDF211.98 KB
  • Pre-season Checklist Centre Pivots and Laterals

    PDF335.04 KB
  • Pre-season Checklist K-Line Irrigation

    PDF198.58 KB
  • Pre-season Checklist Solid Set Irrigation

    PDF192.96 KB
  • Soil Moisture Monitoring Check

    PDF249.39 KB

Fact sheets


  • Determining readily available water from soil texture

    PDF500.21 KB
  • Irrigating to avoid the “Green Drought”

    PDF566.35 KB
  • Using soil moisture monitoring to schedule irrigation

    PDF675.23 KB
  • Using weather forecasts to schedule irrigation

    PDF381.4 KB
  • Optimising irrigation system performance

    PDF423.41 KB
  • Beyond water smart - Advancing Dairy Irrigation System Performance

    PDF316.23 KB
  • Scaling irrigation management to support whole farm operations

    PDF429.82 KB
  • Smarter irrigation for profit dairy optimisation

    PDF1.75 MB
  • Australian Dairy Irrigation Guide

    PDF4.95 MB

Expert videos

  • James Hills, researcher, Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture

  • Lisa Menhenett, Regional Extension Officer, Murray Dairy

  • Andrew Tyler, dairy farmer, northern Victoria

  • Amjed Hussain, scientist, Agriculture Victoria

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