Micro-irrigation trials show promising growth

Cecil Plains farmers trial N-Drip irrigation system in summer crops

Cropping
Howard and Jamie Rother have seen promising results from the 11 hectares of cotton they grew using the N-Drip irrigation system this season.

Howard and Jamie Rother have seen promising results from the 11 hectares of cotton they grew using the N-Drip irrigation system this season.

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More farmers are trialling the N-Drip micro-irrigation system in a bid to be more water efficient.

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The number of farmers trialling alternative irrigation systems continues to grow as more and more look to increase their water use efficiency.

For Howard Rother, Rother Farming, Nangwee, the drive to be more water efficient saw him trial the N-Drip system this season.

Of their 70 hectares of cotton, 11ha was watered using the gravity-powered, micro-irrigation system and Mr Rother said there was a noticeable difference in the performance of the trial crop.

"We're always looking for ways to be more efficient with our water and when we saw this at Nic and Felicity Clapham's place next door, we realised this was potentially a way to save 20 to 25 per cent of our water," Mr Rother said.

"We want to make our water go further but other forms of irrigation like laterals are very capital intensive, so this sounded like an affordable option to start with a smaller area."

The trial crop's growth has been steady, with the system allowing them to keep up with the crop's water needs even during prolonged periods of high temperatures.

"When we had 10 days of 40 degrees, the broadacre flood irrigation slowed its growth because we couldn't apply any water, we only had one or two waters for it and we held back," Mr Rother said.

"Whereas the drip, we were giving 5mm or 10mm to keep it going and it didn't slow its growth, so we can see even now the difference between the drip and the flood."

The true success of the trial won't be known until the crop is picked in May or June, but already the benefits are apparent.

Up to early February, 2.4 megalitres of water had been applied to the flood-irrigated crop, versus 1.5ML on the drip irrigation.

"Not only that, I think it's a better crop. If it was the same, you'd say it's just a pure water saving but looking at the fruit load and the crop size, it's definitely a better crop."

The variability of the season has also been a good test of the system.

"This has been one of the tougher seasons in the lack of rainfall; we were all expecting La Nina and in the back of your mind you're hoping they'll be right.

"Whilst we had one night's fall of 90mm, the other falls have been 5-10mm which is helpful but still not enough."

Overall, Mr Rother said the system just makes sense.

"It won't be for everybody but in our case where we have a bore allocation and we have a field next to the bore, the cost is quite attractive.

"This is the type of technology that we're going to use going forward; we're not there yet but... I think it will take over a lot of the flood irrigation when they get this completely right."

A field day was held earlier this month to showcase the trials in the Rothers' cotton and the Claphams' sorghum, attracting farmers from a range of operations.

N-Drip Australia general manager Udi David Stern said the Israeli technology aimed for water resilience and resource efficiency.

"Drip was invented 60 years ago in Israel, but it has not shifted into broadacre because it requires high energy," he said.

"The system we created eliminated the need for high energy. We don't have an aim of 50pc or 70pc of water use, we're trying to get the highest yield and the minimum amount of water that is needed."

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