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
- 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.
- Variable rate irrigation can achieve productivity gains of 30%.
- 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.
- 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
| DM production
||kgDM/ha||Water Use||ML||Energy Use||
| Growth rate
||kgDM/ha/day|| Water costs
Total costs ($)
(per metre head pumped)
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
Catch Can Testing
Profitable Irrigation Pumping
System Maintenance Check-lists
Scroll to “Management and System Check-lists”
Improved flow on irrigation bays- benefit of spinner cuts
Advanced data-driven irrigation: Where are the losses?
What is evapotranspiration and how do I use it to schedule irrigations?
Soil moisture monitoring
Dairy Australia Soil Moisture Monitoring Information Sheet
Irrigation New Zealand Soil Moisture Monitoring Guide
Local Dairy Optimisation Sites
Western Australia – Dardanup
Contact: Peter Hutton on firstname.lastname@example.org
South Australia – Mt Compass
Contact: Beck Burgess on email@example.com
South Australia – Mt Gambier
Contact: Kylie Boston on firstname.lastname@example.org
Western Victoria – Mepunga East
Contact: Graeme Ward on email@example.com
Murray Dairy – Tongala
Contact: Lisa Menhennett on firstname.lastname@example.org
Gippsland - MID - Cobains
Contact: Alexis Killoran on email@example.com
Gippsland – Yarram
Contact: Alexis Killoran on firstname.lastname@example.org
NSW – Bega
Contact: Kym Revington on email@example.com
NSW – Tocal
Contact: Peter Smith on firstname.lastname@example.org
NSW – Coraki
Contact: Peter Hutton on email@example.com
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
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
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