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 potential of fodder and pastures on irrigated areas.

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

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.

SIP2: The next phase for dairy

Smarter Irrigation for Profit 2 (SIP2) is being delivered from 2019 to 2022 across three irrigation seasons. There are four dairy industry projects that collectively 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 is my yield gap? Maximising water productivity – Dairy Australia
  • Beyond Water Smart – Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA)
  • Scaling irrigation management to support whole farm operations – Agriculture Victoria (AgVic)
  • Precise real-time automated irrigation for cotton and dairy – University of Southern Queensland & TIA

SIP2: What is 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. It will also evaluate the improved yield and water/power efficiency outcomes by collecting data using standard water productivity and economic metrics across all sites.

All dairy regions of Australia 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 is my yield gap project, standard metrics and measurement equipment has been applied at each site. This will maximise industry-wide impact and confidently assesses the efficiency and production outcomes of adopting certain 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
  • System evaluations undertaken: baseline versus improved system efficiencies, including pumps
  • Yield monitoring using rising plate meters or electronic meters. Measurements are entered into the online tool, Pasture.io, to monitor and assess growth rates and validate against satellite measurement systems. IrriSAT is being used for cropping sites
  • Irrigation scheduling using IrriPasture, an online weather-based water balance calculator. IrriSAT is being used for cropping sites

Below is the standard reporting table being used.

 Dry Matter    Water
   Energy  
 DM production
 kgDM/ha  Water Use  ML  Energy Use  kWh
 kWh/ML
 Growth rate
 kgDM/ha/day  Water costs
 Total costs($)
 $/kgDM
 Energy costs  Total costs ($)
 $/kgDM
 $/ML
     Efficiency kgDM/ML  Efficiency (per metre head pumped)  kWh/ML/mhead
 $/ML/head

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

Useful resources for farmers

Improving Irrigation Efficiency

Published:
Water
Irrigation
Climate
Research
Sustainability

Catch Can Testing

Video and Webinar

Improving irrigation efficiency

See how Catch Can Testing can improve irrigation efficiency and consequently reduce GHG emissions on dairy farms
Published:
Water
Infrastructure
Sustainability
Climate

Profitable Irrigation Pumping

Video 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.
Published:
Water
Business Management
Sustainability
Climate

System Maintenance

Video and Webinar

Benefits of an irrigation system maintenance check

See how a systems maintenance check on pressurized irrigation systems can reduce GHG emissions.
Published:
Water
Infrastructure
Sustainability
Climate

System Maintenance Check-lists

Scroll to “Management and System Check-lists” 

Improved flow on irrigation bays- benefit of spinner cuts

Video and Webinar

Improved Irrigation Flow

Senior Research Scientist Mike Morris explains the benefits of Improved Irrigation Flow.
Published:
Water
Irrigation
Climate
Research
Sustainability

Irrigation scheduling

Video 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.
Published:
Water
Infrastructure
Sustainability
Climate
Irrigation

Advanced data-driven irrigation: Where are the losses?

Video and Webinar

2018 DRF Symposium: James Hills

Session 2: Advanced Data-Driven Irrigation: Where are the Losses?
Published:
Water
Irrigation
Soils
Research
Sustainability

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

Soil moisture monitoring

Video and Webinar

Soil Moisture Monitoring

The Hunter Starting Smarter Project uses soil moisture monitoring to better gauge when irrigation should commence.
Published:
Water
Irrigation
Production Input
Research
Sustainability

Dairy Australia Soil Moisture Monitoring Information Sheet

Irrigation New Zealand Soil Moisture Monitoring Guide

Useful websites

Local Dairy Optimisation Sites

Western Australia – Dardanup

Contact: Peter Hutton on huttop02@gmail.com

South Australia – Mt Compass

Contact: Beck Burgess on beckburgess@dairysa.com.au

South Australia – Mt Gambier

Contact: Kylie Boston on kylie@dairysa.com.au

Western Victoria – Mepunga East

Contact: Graeme Ward on graeme.ward57@bigpond.com

Murray Dairy – Tongala

Contact: Lisa Menhennett on lisam@murraydairy.com.au

Gippsland - MID - Cobains

Contact: Alexis Killoran on alexis.c.killoran@agriculture.vic.gov.au

Gippsland – Yarram

Contact: Alexis Killoran on alexis.c.killoran@agriculture.vic.gov.au

NSW – Bega

Contact: Kym Revington on revington.techservices@gmail.com

NSW – Tocal

Contact: Peter Smith on sapphireirrig@gmail.com

NSW – Coraki

Contact: Peter Hutton on hutto02@gmail.com

Pre-season checklists

  • Pre-season Checklist Bike Shift Irrigation

    (12 August 2020)
    PDF, 192.63 KB
  • Pre-season Checklist Travelling Irrigators

    (12 August 2020)
    PDF, 211.98 KB
  • Pre-season Checklist Centre Pivots and Laterals

    (12 August 2020)
    PDF, 335.04 KB
  • Pre-season Checklist K-Line Irrigation

    (12 August 2020)
    PDF, 198.58 KB
  • Pre-season Checklist Solid Set Irrigation

    (12 August 2020)
    PDF, 192.96 KB
  • Soil Moisture Monitoring Check

    (12 August 2020)
    PDF, 249.39 KB

Fact sheets

  • Beyond water smart - Advancing Dairy Irrigation System Performance

    (12 August 2020)
    PDF, 316.23 KB
  • Scaling irrigation management to support whole farm operations

    (12 August 2020)
    PDF, 429.82 KB
  • Smarter irrigation for profit dairy optimisation

    (12 August 2020)
    PDF, 1.75 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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