IrrigationNZ will be back on farms this summer testing irrigation systems and helping farmers improve the efficiency of their irrigation.
Last summer, IrrigationNZ in partnership with Environment Canterbury, developed a new testing programme which saw 131 Ashburton farms have their irrigation systems tested to see how they were performing.
Over the next three months, IrrigationNZ will be testing irrigation systems in Selwyn district. As part of the testing process, farmers and farm staff are also interviewed to find out how they manage their irrigation systems.
“We’re aiming to test irrigation systems and management on 100 farms. We look at how farmers are operating irrigation equipment, whether water is applied evenly, how irrigation is scheduled and the maintenance carried out on equipment as well as the monitoring of soil moisture and run off,” says Steve Breneger, IrrigationNZ Technical Manager.
Thanks to the support of partner organisations Environment Canterbury, DairyNZ, The Foundation for Arable Research, Beef and Lamb New Zealand, HortNZ, Synlait, Fonterra, Ballance Agri-Nutrients and Central Plains Water, the testing and evaluation can be carried out at a subsidised rate.
Once the testing has been completed, farmers receive their test results and also have the opportunity to attend a drop-in session with IrrigationNZ staff where they can discuss the results and also any measures which could help them use water more efficiently and improve their production.
The testing programme carried out in Ashburton over the summer of 2016/17 was the first large scale independent irrigation efficiency trial completed in New Zealand and identified some important results which are applicable to irrigators throughout New Zealand. The testing was carried out on dairy, sheep and beef, arable and deer farms. A range of different irrigation equipment was operating on these farms.
“New Zealand is actually a world leader in terms of irrigation best practice and innovation and training and most farmers were farmers were actively working to ensure they were using water efficiently and using technology to support the decisions they made. For example 70% of the farmers were using soil moisture monitoring technology. And just over half of all irrigation equipment showed good to excellent uniformity of water distribution, with 32% of systems having fair uniformity and only 16% poor,” Mr Breneger says.
Mr Breneger says that the test results highlighted that the performance of older irrigation systems (over 15 years old) can deteriorate over time, however regular testing and maintenance of these systems helps to pick up and correct any faults. Worn parts in irrigators can contribute to less than optimal water distribution, with sediment in the water supply, incorrect hardware or blocked nozzles being some other common factors affecting performance.
The depth of water application is another important factor which impacts on crop or pasture growth. Factors which can limit application depth include incorrect set up and commissioning during installation, a lack of understanding of the system’s constraints, poor maintenance and technology failures.
“A key part of the project is that it provides farmers with a complete picture of both of how well their irrigation system is operating and also how they are managing it, and they are offered advice on what they could do to improve their irrigation performance,” he says.
On farm staff knowledge and training of how to use irrigation equipment, carry out soil moisture monitoring and irrigation performance testing are also key to achieving best practice in irrigation. IrrigationNZ offers a range of training courses – see www.irrigationnz.co.nz/events for details.
If you live in Selwyn and would like to register to be part of the irrigation efficiency project please visit www.irrigationnz.co.nz/events
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