A trial of centre-pivot irrigation on a Western Australian dairy farm has substantially increased milk production and cut runoff of nutrient-rich water into sensitive estuaries while also cutting water use by 30 per cent.
Already, ten dairy farmers and five beef producers in the area have switched from their previous use of flood irrigation to centre-pivot as a result of the trial in the Harvey Water Irrigation Area.
Collaboration between commercial companies, irrigators, consultants, state agencies, scientists and water providers was a key factor in the success of the research, which was a partnership between WA Department of Agriculture, the National Program for Sustainable Irrigation, Dairy Australia, Western Dairy, Chemistry Centre of Western Australia and Harvey Water.
Researchers worked with Dale Hanks, who hosted the trial on his dairy farm, Taylynn Dairy Farms, to test and demonstrate the technology on a working farm.
With irrigation water costing more than $48 per million litres in Western Australia, the trial demonstrated that, compared with flood irrigation, centre pivot irrigation:
- reduced water use by 3.3 million litres per hectare per year
- increased pasture growth (measured as dry matter) from 0.7 tonnes to 1.6 tonnes for each million litres of water used
- increased the useable energy in each hectare of pasture from 94,000 megajoules to 155,000 megajoules
- produced pasture with higher growth rates, higher crude protein levels and lower fibre levels
- increased milk production by 8,500 litres per hectare over a six-month period
- halted runoff of water with high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorous to the off-farm environment.
Harvey Water Chief Executive Geoff Calder said the trial showed that changing irrigation technologies can be done economically and practically. “The successful demonstration of centre-pivot technology with its large increases in water-use efficiency, pasture production and dollar returns for added milk produced has stimulated greater interest and confidence in both dairy and beef farmers who are considering changing to this technology in the region,” he said.
As Australia adapts to increasing water scarcity, the adoption of water saving technologies that boost productivity will be critical for irrigators to remain sustainable and competitive. The financial cost of installing new technologies, particularly when they have not been tested regionally, often prevents farmers making the step to change their irrigation systems. “This is an important role for research and development, to provide the information required to give land managers the confidence to make changes to how they manage their land and water,” said Rob Houghton, Chair of the National Program for Sustainable Irrigation (NPSI).
NPSI is a collaboration of 14 partners from industry, government, research and the private sector, and is managed by Land & Water Australia.
Contact: Sarah Leonardi Rob Houghton Geoff Calder
NPSI Program Officer Chair of NPSI Harvey Water CEO
02 6263 6031 0428 559 249 08 9729 0124
A photograph is available for this story. Please contact NPSI to obtain a photo.