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It’s meant to be spring, but it’s not quite kicked into gear yet! In my last column I talked about September being the month to check your irrigation and October being the month to start keeping an eye on your soil moisture sensors or water budget alongside the 3-day weather forecast. If you’ve been doing this, for October 2019 you’d have found there was no reason to switch on your irrigation. Evapotranspiration rates have been lower than normal and there’s also been regular small rainfall events. Based on the current 10-day forecast it will be early November before irrigation needs to start in 2019.

What’s really encouraging is when I’ve been out and about on the Canterbury Plains during October, I’ve only very occasionally seen an irrigator going. This means most irrigators must now have monitoring systems in place that enable them to accurately time their irrigation start date. A massive change in irrigation practice from that of a decade ago and Canterbury irrigators are all the better for it.

Interestingly at Water Strategies we’re now receiving enquiries from clients for advice on taking their irrigation monitoring systems to the next level. Refining their trigger points for irrigation over the season, how to best manage irrigation for a range of crop and/ or pasture types under one irrigator, alongside how to better time irrigation with fertiliser applications and grazing rotations. This in part is why Water Strategies developed its Irrigation WOF.

Alongside a detailed test of irrigation system performance, the initial irrigation assessment for the Water Strategies Irrigation WOF includes an assessment of irrigation scheduling practice. For this we look at what monitoring is in place and how it relates to the day-to-day decision-making. We then provide independent advice as to how monitoring could be improved, including suggesting technologies that are best suited to the farm system. We can do this as we don’t sell anything!

In the technology space, after 6 years of research, Manaaki Whenua, Plant & Food Research and Foundation for Arable Research are wrapping up their Maximising the Value of Irrigation project. From this work there are two further projects of note. The first is a sensor-based project where in field soil and crop sensors have been combined with detailed field mapping to provide precise daily irrigation schedules to the farmer.

The second, which in my opinion is the future of irrigation scheduling, involves the use of remote sensing technologies to accurately calculate daily crop water use across the paddock. From this accurate water budgets can be automatically produced, that when combined with weather forecasts provide the ultimate in irrigation scheduling. Remote sensing will be the way of the future – it gives you a complete picture of water use across each paddock. Remote sensing irrigation scheduling services are starting to be offered commercially overseas, so here’s hoping a commercial offering will come from this project.

If you would like to know how your scheduling practices could be improved call us today to book in your Water Strategies Irrigation WOF.

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