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The Smarter Irrigation for Profit project is supporting dairy research that aims to improve water productivity on irrigated properties.

Smarter Irrigation for Profit

The Smarter Irrigation for Profit (SIP) 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.

At this year’s #EvokeAG, we’re proud to showcase irrigation innovation powered by collaboration between five Research and Development Corporations, research organisations and farmer groups.

  • Copy Link 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.

  • Copy Link 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:

    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.

    The location and systems of the 10 Dairy Optimisation Sites

    The details of the dairy optimisation sites including technologies and the research activities can be found in the Smarter Irrigation for Profit II Dairy Optimisation Sites booklet.

    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   metric Water  metric  Energy  metric 
     DM production  kgDM/ha Water use   ML  Energy use  kWh
    kWh/ML
     Growth rate   Water costs   Total costs ($)
    $/kgDM
     Energy costs Total costs ($)
    $/kgDM
    $/ML 
        Efficiency   
    kgDM/ML
    Efficiency
    (per metre head pumped) 
     kWh/ML/m head
    $/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.

  • Copy Link Useful resources for farmers

    Below is a list of resources for farmers who want to find out more about the benefits of the Smarter Irrigation for Profit project.

    View a collection of Dairy Australia videos on topics such as catch can testing, reducing emissions and costs associated with moving water, the benefits of an irrigation system maintenance check, optimising irrigation potential and irrigation system evaluations.

    Below is a list of other resources available from third party trusted sources.

    Pre-season checks of irrigation systems

    This checking is vital to ensure the efficient running of the irrigation system through the season.  View the following checklists for different irrigation systems below. 

    Soil moisture monitoring provides information that assists in effective irrigation decision making. Check out the Knowledge inventory for monitoring soil moisture fact sheet. 

    Improving Irrigation Efficiency 

    Irrigation scheduling

    Soil moisture monitoring

     

  • Copy Link Local dairy optimisation sites

    Western Australia - Dardanup

    Contact: Peter Hutton huttop02@gmail.com

    South Australia - Mt Compass

    Contact: Beck Burgess beckburgess@dairysa.com.au

    South Australia - Mt Gambier

    Contact: Kylie Boston kylie@dairysa.com.au

    Western Victoria - Mepunga East

    Contact: Graeme Ward graeme.ward57@bigpond.com

    Murray Dairy -Tongala

    Contact: Lisa Menhennett lisam@murraydairy.com.au

    Gippsland - East Sale

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

    Gippsland - Yarram

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

    NSW - Bega

    Contact: Kym Revington revington.techservices@gmail.com

    NSW - Tocal

    Contact: Peter Smith sapphireirrig@gmail.com

    NSW - Coraki

    Contact: Peter Hutton hutto02@gmail.com

  • Copy Link Smarter Irrigation for Profit project terminology

    Smarter Irrigation for Profit Phase II - Standard project terminology and graphic communications

    The Smarter Irrigation for profit project will use a common language across all Dairy Optimisation Sites to reduce confusion and build a strong foundation for increased knowledge and understanding. The following terms and graphics will be used in all communications:

    Soil Moisture Monitoring (SMM) equipment:

    The combined term to be used for the separate components of the probe (encasing inserted into the ground), sensor (the point at which soil moisture measurements are taken along the probe at 10cm increments), logger (where all data measurements from sensors are transferred and stored), telemetry unit (transfers the data from the logger to an external access portal via the internet) and telemetry platform (the website/ App where the data is managed using tables and graphs for the farmer/ service provider to read).

    Readily Available Water (RAW) zone: RAW is used by the project to describe the ideal soil moisture content for active plant growth and optimal yield performance.

    • RAW is expressed in (mm/m) and indicates the depth of water (mm) held in every metre (m) of soil that can be readily removed by the plant.
    • RAW has been calculated for each SMM location of the Dairy Optimisation Sites using effective root zone of the pasture/ crop and soil texture. 
    • When RAW is depleted (refill point) irrigation is required to raise soil moisture nearer to field capacity.
    • Figure 1 is the graphic to be used in all project communications.

    Figure 1 Explaining the Readily Available Water zone in relation to soil moisture readings and irrigation scheduling.

    Readily Available Water zone in relation to soil moisture readings and irrigation scheduling

    Image source: http://www.agric.wa.gov.au/PC_95247.html?s=1001 (May 2013).

    Water balance calculations and related terms: A water balance is used to assess the water needs for a plant over a specified period based upon ETo (mm), Kc and rainfall (mm). This can be likened to water contributions into and out of a bucket.  Available tools will use this information to provide guidance schedules on irrigation frequency (days) to apply the required amount (mm) to meet irrigation requirements.   

    Evapotranspiration (ET) provides a relatively objective and reliable estimate of the water requirements of plants in a farm situation. It depends on a number of factors including sunlight, wind, temperature and humidity.

    Reference Evapotranspiration (ETo) specifically refers to the rate of evapotranspiration from a very actively growing, well-watered grass stand which is 120mm in height. In terms of its water use, this standard reference pasture stand provides a workable representation of good productive pastures across a well irrigated farm. It is measured in millimetres per day (mm/day) ETo can be sourced from local Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) sites and a number of freely available government and commercial we based platforms.

    Crop Coefficient (Kc) is used to express a crops relative water use. The reference stand of pasture is given a Kc of 1.0. Whereas, the appropriate Kc for mature actively growing Lucerne, maize or sorghum is likely to approximate 1.2. Following sowing when new leaves have just emerged, Kc’s for different crops are usually less than 0.4. For example, maize or sorghum at this stage is likely to have a Kc of 0.2 to 0.3. The Kc increases in line with plant growth until a full canopy is developed.

    A Kc of 1.2 indicates the crop requires 120% of the water needed for good pasture.

    Crop water requirement (ETc) is estimated for high growth rates obtained by multiplying the specific crop coefficient (Kc) by reference evapotranspiration (ETo). ie. ETc = ETo x Kc.

    Figure 2   Example of how the relationship between RAW, the components of a water balance and determining a surface irrigation schedule can be displayed.

     

    Day 0

    Day 1

    Day 2

    Day 3

    Day 4

    Day 5

    Day 6

    Day 7

    Day 8

    Day 9

    Day 10

    ETo (mm)

    -

    5.1

    4.9

    5.8

    5.3

    5.3

    5.9

    5.9

    5.7

    6.3

    -

    Kc

    -

    1.0

    1.0

    1.0

    1.0

    1.0

    1.0

    1.0

    1.0

    1.0

    -

    ETc (ETo x Kc, mm)

     

    5.1

    4.9

    5.8

    5.3

    5.3

    5.9

    5.9

    5.7

    6.3

     

    Rain (mm)

    -

    -

    -

    5.0

    -

    -

    -

    -

    6.0

    -

    -

    ETc-R (mm)

    -

    5.1

    4.9

    0.8

    5.3

    5.3

    5.9

    5.9

    -0.3

    6.3

    -

    Cumulative ETc-R (mm)

    -

    5.1

    10.0

    10.8

    16.1

    21.4

    27.3

    33.2

    32.9

    39.2

    -

    RAW (mm)

    40

    34.9

    30

    29.2

    23.9

    18.6

    12.7

    6.8

    7.1

    0.8

    40

    Irrigation

    -

    -

    -

    -

    -

    -

    -

    -

    -

    Image source: Agriculture Victoria fact sheet “What is evapotranspiration and how do I use it to schedule irrigations (December 2017)

    Water Productivity (Gross Production Water Use Index): Improved water productivity is a key aim of the project at each Dairy Optimisation Site. It is the amount of Dry Matter (kilogram (kg) or tonne (t) DM) produced per Megalitre (ML) of water used (Irrigation + rainfall). DM/ML= tDM/ Total rainfall + Total irrigation. Water productivity can be improved by using irrigation strategically as a supplement to rainfall events. 

    Optimal yield:  Determined by yield potential models using the dairy industry’s DairyMod. Annually, measured DM production (total & growth rates) will be compared against the modelled yield potential to demonstrate whether the gap between actual V potential is reducing.

    Benchmarking: The project will be using the following benchmarks to evaluate improved performance based upon dairy and irrigation industry standards:

    • Pasture: Determining site yield potential using DairyMod
    • Water: Gross Production Water Use Index (DM/ML)=tDM/ Total rainfall + Total irrigation
    • Irrigation system evaluation benchmarks:
      • Distribution Uniformity (DU%)-90%
      • Coefficient of Uniformity (DU%)-90%
      • Pump efficiency – Pump performance curve specification of the pump model.
    • Energy Use:4-8 kWh/ML/m head (Daley and Callow, 2014)
    • Cost comparison analysis:Year on year costings (at least three years)

    Project standard metrics: Communications of all collated data across the Dairy Optimisation Sites will use the units and format outlined in Table 3 for cross site consistency.

    Table 3 SIP2 Optimised Sites Project Standard Metrics

    Dry Matter

    Water

    Energy

    DM Production

    kgDM/ha

     

    Water Use

    ML

     

    Energy Use

    kWh

    kWh/ ML

    kWh/kgDM

    Pasture 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/m head

    $/ML/m head

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