Test the wa­ters

Manjimup-Bridgetown Times - - Front Page - TARI JEF­FERS

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.

Pic­ture: Tari Jef­fers

Curtin Univer­sity's Jo Mon­aghan, Curtin Univer­sity crop and disease man­age­ment cen­tre di­rec­tor Pro­fes­sor Mark Gib­berd, Food Agility CRC and Curtin Univer­sity’s Julia Eas­ton and Curtin Univer­sity's Roberta Fornarelli.

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