Irrigation New Zealand

Precision Irrigation takes out Inaugral Award

Irrigation NZ’s inaugural innovation award, in association with WaterForce, has been won by Stu Brdabury of Precision Irrigation for variable rate irrigation – Annette Scott talked with Stu to find out what VRI is all about

The Precision Irrigation variable rate control system for centre pivot and linear move irrigators gives total control of where water is applied beneath the irrigator. With remote programming and monitoring through the easy to use software interface and an advanced system controlling every sprinkler on the irrigator, water is applied at varying rates only where necessary. Water and pumping costs are saved and the irrigator will run to maximum efficiency.

Feilding-based Precision Irrigation began developing a VRI system in 2006. The system went through various stages of design and testing until the first prototype was installed on a dairy farm in 2008 with the aim being to keep water off the cow tracks. Since then 12 VRI systems have been installed nationally.

The mapping software runs on farm PC and takes many forms of a farm map including maps drawn from GPS, aerial photography of Google Earth. The irrigator’s specifications are loaded into the mapping software and then the areas are drawn on the map and programmed for how much water they are to receive. A programme is then generated and loaded into the VRI controller on the irrigator with the irrigator using GPS to determine its position and using a wireless network of control nodes turns on, off, or pulses valves individually for every sprinkler.

More than 3000 pivot and lateral sprinkler systems have been installed in NZ since 1997, irrigating an area of about 300,000ha and Bradbury believes 30-50% of these centre pivot irrigators could be retrofitted with VRI to provide immediate economic benefit to the famer with potential water and power savings estimated to be 10-20% using VRI to address the variable soil types.

Precision Irrigation (a division of WMC Technology Limited) had taken the concept of VRI and produced a package that can be fitted at installation or retrofitted to any existing centre-pivot or linear irrigator. They are supplying VRI systems to irrigation installers and plan to continue the development of the VRI system while providing support to existing customers.

A modest Bradbury was a man of few words after winning the award. “It’s all pretty interesting stuff and a progressive part of the industry to be working in,” he said.

As far as Bradbury is aware there is no one else in the world offering such a system and while New Zealand is the priority patents in Australia and the US have also been applied for.

Bradbury’s winning effort earned him a cash prize of $2,500, sponsored by WaterForce and the honour of being the inaugural winner of this prestigious innovation award. Highly commended awards were presented to Kirk Irrigation for K-Line Irrigation and CrossTech Engineering using water turbines to enhance pumping costs for spray irrigation.

INZ business manager Chris Coughlan said the level of interest in this new award was very satisfying with the entry numbers reflecting good interest. The inaugural award was proudly sponsored by WaterForce.

Paul Donaldson of WaterForce said it was exciting to be associated with Irrigation NZ and the innovation award as innovation fits right with the ethos of WaterForce.

“Kiwis are innovative, particularly in the agricultural sector and WaterForce is striving to promote optimisation of New Zealand’s water resources and deliver solutions within the irrigation industry. This is a strong Kiwi award, for Kiwis and WaterForce has a very close connection with that,” Donaldson said.

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