The Smarter Irrigation for Profit Phase 1 project enabled the completion of valuable research in areas including irrigation system audits, irrigation scheduling research, investigation of new technology, evaluation of system design and water use efficiency assessments. This initial project led to phase 2.
Smarter Irrigation for Profit Phase 2 (SIP2) is a partnership between the irrigation industries of sugar, cotton, grains, dairy and rice, research organisations and farmer groups.
This project includes two sugarcane-specific sub-projects:
- Sub-project 1: Increasing the industry capability to improve irrigation and system selection
- Sub-project 2: Precision automated furrow irrigation for the Australian sugar industry
Farmers with aging irrigation infrastructure are currently facing the difficult decision of whether to refurbish existing systems or invest in new irrigation equipment. Rising energy costs have added another dimension to this issue, particularly for those growers relying on high pressure travelling gun irrigators, which involve minimal capital cost but high energy costs. Automated furrow irrigation is a potential option for growers. However, there is a lack of knowledge about costs, benefits, and applicability of this technology to other regions.
Previous research has shown that automation of furrow irrigation can improve water use efficiency and reduce labour and energy requirements. This project is building grower understanding of the feasibility of furrow irrigation systems previously trialled successfully in the Burdekin, for southern sugar growing regions. It is addressing the issues involved in adapting existing automation technology to different water supplies and on-farm water delivery infrastructure, different soils and cropping practices, and different field layouts.
It is also assessing whether furrow automation systems can collect the necessary data to provide accurate estimates of water applied, run-off and deep drainage losses to enable better irrigation scheduling decisions. The information gathered during the trials will enable the development of design guidelines and indicative system costs and benefits.
The objective of SIP2 is to improve the profit of over 4,000 irrigators. It has 14 sub-projects covering three main components:
- Development of new irrigation technologies including new sensors, advanced analytics to improve irrigation scheduling and strategies to reduce water storage evaporation
- Cost effective, practical automated irrigation systems for cotton, rice, sugar and dairy
- Closing the irrigation productivity yield gap for cotton, rice, dairy, sugar and grains irrigators through a network of 46 farmer led optimised irrigation sites and key learning sites located on commercial farms across Australia
- Improve irrigation productivity and profitability in the sugar industry by establishing seven local innovation hubs across the main irrigation regions
- Increase adoption of existing knowledge and use of information and tools through week-long training and capacity-building programs targeted at irrigators, advisors, and service providers in each region
- Improve capability of growers and advisors through a program of irrigation system data collection, analysis, benchmarking, discussion, reflection, and evaluation
- Develop resources to support ongoing technical and profitable irrigation decision making, through development of case studies, information sheets, a handbook and ready-reckoner tools to support irrigation system selection, design and operation
- Improved irrigation knowledge and skills of sugar extension and productivity staff by building their capacity to measure and assess irrigation systems
- Establishment of irrigation innovation training hubs across four sugarcane regions
- A readily accessible resource bank storing participant materials, case studies, information sheets, instructional videos, workbooks and webinar series
- Establishment of demonstration sites in the Bundaberg region, which can be used to evaluate and demonstrate precision automated furrow irrigation
- Development of design guidelines and indicative system costs and benefits
- Tools which can interrogate and analyse the data collected by the automation system for improved irrigation decisions
Improved irrigation control empowers growers with the ability to better manage off-site impacts of irrigation. A reduction in tail water might result in reduced water and energy costs for the farmer and will reduce the opportunity for nutrients and pesticides to leave the farm.
SRA project contact: Dr Gus Manatsa
SRA acknowledges the co-funding from the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for this research activity.
This project is supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment as part of its Rural R&D for Profit program.