The collaborative Rural R&D For Profit Program, Smarter Irrigation for Profit project*, which included Dairy Australia, saw dairy farmers around the country adopt new knowledge and new ways of working that helped save them money and reduced their environmental impact.
The project was designed to encourage the adoption of new irrigation technologies and science application by farmers and irrigation professionals to improve farm profits. Growers learnt by being directly involved in setting the direction for research on optimised farms and key learning sites, or by visiting these sites and learning about the research through various avenues or events. Benchmarking, machinery evaluations and pump monitoring undertaken under the project have also yielded benefits for irrigators.
Irrigators have realised real and significant benefits as they implemented the management strategies from research findings and technology trials. In the dairy industry, some of these benefits were as follows:
- On Rex Tout’s optimised dairy farm in Tamworth, NSW, an expert Technical Working Group provided strategic direction and technical advice that saw a 21 per cent reduction in the cost of power by changing how it was metered, a 60 per cent reduction in power use by the irrigation pumps, and an increase in average pump efficiency from 29 to 68 per cent. As a percentage of annual farm milk income, power costs to pump and place water dropped from 2.9 to 1.8 per cent in one year.
In 2015–16, the business was paying $15.74/1000 L of milk produced for power to irrigate, compared to $8/1000 L in 2016–17 after the changes.
- Rob Bradley, a dairy farmer from Cressy, Tasmania, increased his pasture production by 200 tonnes over 117 hectares with variable-rate irrigation under centre pivots. This was achieved through better irrigation scheduling to keep moisture in the root zone for optimal growth (and meant using less water). More pasture means less supplementary feed costs and better use of water and energy. With these savings, the researchers calculated that the payback time on installing the video remote interpreting (VRI) technology was reduced from nine to two years.
- Vic Rodwell, a dairy farmer in Boyanup, WA, reduced his feed costs under the 100 ha centre-pivot area by using soil mapping tools, variable-rate irrigation and variable-speed pumps. He reduced the cost of growing kikuyu under the pivot from $240 to $130 per tonne of dry matter.
Dairy Australia’s Profitable Dairying series includes case studies like those above as well as factsheets and videos with detailed information on automation and variable-rate irrigation, irrigation scheduling, irrigation system checks and smarter irrigation for profit, to help other dairy farmers understand how they can optimise their irrigation to reduce their input costs and increase returns.