Efficient irrigation requires balancing act

Combining technology, data and best practice is the key to increasing irrigation efficiency, according to Oxford farmer and Waimakariri Irrigation Ltd (WIL) shareholder Scott Evans.

“It’s not enough to think, ‘that looks about right’. You really have to use your data to make the right decisions,” says Scott, who owns three farms with his family.

“You need a system of using your knowledge, the data and long range forecasts to get the most out of your irrigation system.”

Being able to control each individual sprinkler on his Irrigate IQ system gives Scott an edge when it comes to saving water and also helps with maintaining farm infrastructure.

“When we go over different soil types we can control the rate of water by pulsing the solenoid,” says Scott. “So, instead of putting 5 mls on each area you can put 5 mls on one and 2 mls on another  depending on the soil. That’s a real saving for us in terms of the amount of water we’re using.

“Being able to turn off the sprinkler when it goes over the top of troughs and tracks means you cut down on track maintenance and keeping the troughs dry makes it a nicer environment for the cows. We’re also stopping run off which makes it better for the environment.”

Scott says while he already knows which areas of his farm are wet and dry, the Irrigate IQ system has provided a broad overview of all three farms and allows him to react quickly to changes in soil moisture conditions.

“The system uses Google Maps so you have your pivot overlaid and then you select the areas where you want to place water, so it gives you a good overview of everything happening on-farm.

“We have soil moisture probes on all the farms with one at root level and the other one 5 mls down. I get a report sent to my phone every two hours so I can see the latest soil moisture data. That helps us know that we’re holding the moisture where we want it to be.”

Scott credits WIL’s scheme with allowing him to farm what would otherwise be unproductive land.

“Having that water come past your gate is just gold. Without it there is no way we could farm here at all. Being able to surface pump saves us a lot of costs and it’s more efficient.”

WIL environmental manager Paul Reese says Scott’s farm is an excellent example of how technology and best practice can be combined to deliver efficient irrigation.

“We’re about water use efficiency and Scott’s IQ Irrigate system helps him know what is happening at all times in terms of soil moisture,” says Paul.

“Technology is one side; the other side is maintenance. The operation of the system needs to be correct so that you get optimal use of the water. Scott has everything well set up so that he can get the most out of his water while making sure his system is running effectively.”

Paul says WIL’s philosophy is based on giving farmers the tools to use water wisely.

“You’ve got to take all of the factors into account when making decisions around irrigation. You need to consider the weather, how much moisture was originally in the soil and what’s coming up over the next few days. This needs to be combined with technology for the best results.”

Scott says while the initial set up costs for an irrigation system can seem expensive, there is a pay-off over time in terms of reduced water usage.

“You’re not using as much water so that results in cost savings over time, but it’s also better for the environment, your farm and your stock. Being able to turn the irrigator off on your phone is also pretty handy for farmers.”