Test the waters
Lower South West growers are being urged to participate in an irrigation study to improve the region’s multi-million-dollar horticulture industry.
The Australia-first, three-year project by Food Agility Co-Operative Research Centre is led by Curtin University, in collaboration with the State Government, Southern Forests Food Council, farmers and technology companies like Perth-based Swan Systems.
The project aims to support farmers to use data to make decisions about water use and irrigation, as well as to demonstrate the value that irrigation generates for farmers and the regional economy.
The six participants so far each represent avocados, apples, stone fruit, vegetables, truffles and wine grapes.
Curtin University crop and disease management centre director Professor Mark Gibberd said the team was looking for another 25 project participants.
“On farm water use efficiency is highly variable and there are many opportunities to improve the adoption of new technology and to develop the industry capability for strategic irrigation management,” he said.
“This project will clearly demonstrate the potential economic returns to farmers of improved irrigation efficiency.
“At a broader level, we want to also understand how water use for agriculture contributes to the economic sustainability of a regional community, such as Manjimup.”
Southern Forest Flavours director Bevan Eatts said it was important producers understood their exact water usage, the value of the water and cost of growing their crops.
“This project will arm our industry with the true value of water and what it brings back to the community,” he said.
“The ultimate goal is to get more crop per drop.”
Food Agility CRC and Curtin University’s Julia Easton said regional agriculture and regional communities were on the forefront of food production.
“The project provides a greater opportunity for the CRC to work across the whole region and have greater collaboration with farmers,” she said.
“It also unlocks the power of digital in agriculture.”
Researchers have installed digital water flow meters and soil moisture probes at multiple horticulture blocks at participating growers’ properties, which will measure how much water is being used in real time.
Participating farmers will be able to see, via an online dashboard, their daily water use and soil moisture.
They will also be able to compare their irrigation with cumulative evaporation over the season and see data on recent and forecasted rainfall.
Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development horticulture research and industry innovation director Rohan Prince said the project would bring together researchers with growers, irrigation and agronomic professionals, to support best practice irrigation decisions.
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