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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.

  • 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:

    • 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.

    The location and systems of the 10 Dairy Optimisation Sites

    <Insert Interactive Map> (provides location, irrigations system, agronomic system)

    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
     Growth rate   Water costs   Total costs ($)
     Energy costs Total costs ($)
    (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.

    Improving Irrigation Efficiency 

    Irrigation scheduling

    Soil moisture monitoring


  • Copy Link Local dairy optimisation sites

    Western Australia - Dardanup

    Contact: Kirk Reynolds krfarmingsolutions@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


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