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Industries' plan to build on efficiency gains (27 March 2019)

To maintain or increase farm profit, significant increases in water productivity are required by all agriculture sectors.

CRDC is hoping to help realise gains through technology for five industries: cotton, sugar, rice, dairy and grains through its application for funding for Phase 2 of the Smarter Irrigation for Profit project, through the Australian Government’s Rural R&D for Profit program. The Phase 2 application sets out to realise potential gains in water productivity, energy efficiency and farm profitability across five agriculture sectors by implementing the recommendations from the Phase 1 project Smarter Irrigation for Profit, which wound up in 2018.

Phase 2 aims to increase the water productivity of over 4000 irrigated cropping and pasture agricultural enterprises by 10 to 20 percent. It will focus on advancing precise irrigated agriculture research; development and delivery of autonomous irrigation; and managing the yield gap via best practice irrigation extension. This project is supported by Dairy Australia, Sugar Research Australia, AgriFutures Australia, GRDC and CRDC with 14 research and development partners and 46 irrigation optimisation and key learning sites. 

“Reduced water availability and increased climate variability is impacting on how Australian irrigators utilise and manage water,” CRDC R&D Manager Jane Trindall said.

“This project will fund innovative research across the nation to increase the water productivity of irrigated agriculture.”

Smarter Irrigation for Profit Phase 1, funded via Round 1 of the Rural R&D for Profit program, found participating farmers from the dairy, cotton, sugar and rice industries could achieve a 10 to 20 percent improvement in water productivity through adoption of new and existing precision irrigation technologies. The project also identified significant energy savings which also enhanced profitability.

“With an estimated 15 percent increase in adoption of technologies across Australia, the cotton and sugar industries alone would provide an overall benefit of between $200 million to $315 million,” Jane said.

“Phase 2 will realise these potential gains in productivity and farm profitability across the five agriculture sectors by implementing recommendations from Phase 1.

“With the support of 14 research and development partners we aim to transfer the learnings of the latest R&D via 46 cotton, dairy, sugar, rice and grains and irrigation optimisation and key learning sites, which were a very successful aspect of the first program.”

The main recommendations from Phase 1 were to:

  • Build the understanding of farmers and service providers of the importance of monitoring (soil moisture, plant growth).
  • Explore advanced technologies for monitoring and scheduling, eg remote sensing.
  • Further develop scheduling tools and systems.
  • Improve automation components, integrating them into practical, user-friendly systems.
  • Expand the use of co-learning approaches.


 

Phase 2 will directly address the Phase 1 recommendations through four sub-programs of work while delivering against the Rural R&D Program objective of significant increases in farm productivity and profit.

Sub-programs will include advancing precise irrigation technologies along with development and delivery of autonomous irrigation to improve automation components.

RD&E activities will be conducted on 11 key learnings sites. A further 35 irrigation optimisation sites will be established across five irrigated agricultural crops/pasture with a focus on increasing private sector involvement and managing the yield gap via best practice irrigation extension. Irrigation water use measurement and reporting also features in Phase 2, as these factors become a market access requirement as multi-nationals seek to increase the percentage of sustainably sourced product.

For more information and outcomes of Smarter Irrigation for Profit (Phase 1), visit: www.crdc.com.au/smarter-irrigation.

This article appears in the Autumn 2019 edition of CRDC's Spotlight magazine. Pictured: Key Smarter Irrigation for Profit researchers and engineers: USQ's Dr Alison McCarthy, Dr Malcolm Gillies, Dr Joseph Foley and consultant Peter Smith.