Northern Irrigation and Southern Riverina
"The soul of man is nourished by learning, as the body is by food." Bartholomew of San Concordio
Inside this issue:
- Automated Irrigation - Dairy Farm Case Study
- Will you approach your Annual Use Limit this season?
- Monthly reminders
- What's On
Feasibility of Automatic Cluster Removers in the Dairy - Do They Pay?
A Technical Report from the Dairy Directions Project
What are cluster removers?
Labour is a scarce resource and there is ongoing pressure on dairy farmers to find ways to increase the efficient use of available labour. Automatic Cluster Removers (ACRs) are a common labour saving device installed on Victorian dairy farms. They are an attachment on the normal milking cluster that measures milk flow rate and when this rate falls below the set rate, the ACR removes the cluster from the cow. Despite the popularity of the installation, there is little information available on the economics of this technology.
Is this labour saving device a good investment?
A partial budget was used to determine if ACR technology was a good investment. A range of milking sheds, multiple herd sizes and levels of labour saving were analysed. An assumption was made that ACRs did not reduce milking time per cow. Savings were determined by an increase in the number of clusters operated per person, reducing the labour required in the shed at milking.
The Internal Rate of Return (IRR) was used to judge how well ACRs performed as an investment. The IRR is the weighted average of the return on capital for the ten years following installation. An IRR of less than five per cent was considered to be an unattractive investment. If the IRR was between five and ten per cent, the economic benefits were still not considered to be enough to justify the capital expenditure. However, combined with intangible benefits that are of value to the owner, it may be a worthwhile investment. An IRR of greater than ten per cent was considered sufficient to justify the investment.
Estimated installation costs
There is substantial variation in the price of ACR units. A middlerange price of $1,700 per cluster installed was used for this analysis. An annual maintenance cost of $10 per year was also included. In order to realise the full labour savings in each shed, an automatic teat spray unit was also purchased, at a cost of $6,000.
How did it look - Swing-over Herringbone?
Two swing-over shed sizes were analysed; a 15 unit and a 25 unit dairy. Each shed size was analysed with a herd size of 150 and 300 cows.
As only minimal labour savings were possible in the 15 unit shed, the economics of ACRs were not attractive. The IRR of the investment was -9 per cent when milking 150 cows and 5 per cent with 300 cows when the full labour savings (0.1 labour unit) were achieved. A negative IRR was generated for both herd sizes when only 0.05 of a labour unit could be saved.
In the 25 unit shed, ACRs were a good investment, when at least 150 cows were milked. If labour savings of 0.4 labour unit were used, about 300 cows were required to be milked for ACRs to be a good investment. If greater labour savings were achieved, (0.75 labour unit) then the return on investment over time was significant (Table 1).
Table 1: Assumptions and results for installation of ACRs into a swing-over dairy.
|Dairy cluster number||15||15||15||25||25||25|
|Herd size (cows)||150||300||300||150||300||300|
|Milking time (hours)||1.5||3.0||3.0||0.9||1.8||1.8|
|Labour saving (labour units/year)||0.1||0.1||0.05||0.75||0.75||0.4|
|Years to break even (before interest)||>10||8||>10||5||2||5|
How did it look - Double-up Herringbone?
Three shed sizes were tested for the doubleup herringbone, a 16 unit (8 per side), 28 unit (14 per side), and a 50 unit (25 per side) shed. The two smaller sheds were analysed with 150 and 300 cow herds, while the 50 unit dairy was analysed with 300, 400 and 600 cow herds. The level of labour savings that could be achieved was a critical factor in determining whether ACRs were a worthwhile investment.
Installation of ACRs in small sheds that can be managed by one person, such as the 16 unit double-up, was not an attractive investment. For ACR investment to be attractive, the 16 unit double-up had to be managed by one person milking 300 cows over the entire year (IRR of 11 per cent). When a second person was required, even for 5 per cent of milkings per year, such as during calving or joining, then the IRR dropped to -6 per cent. The installation with a herd of 150 cows was not an attractive investment.
When ACRs were installed in the larger sheds, it was assumed that one person could be removed from the dairy for half of the year (28 unit) or for all of the year (50 unit). ACRs were a good investment when the full labour savings were achieved. In the 28 unit shed, the returns were substantially higher for a 300 cow herd (IRR of 36 per cent) than a 150 cow herd (IRR of 9 per cent).
Automatic Cluster Removers in the 50 unit double-up dairy were a good investment over the range in herd sizes analysed – 300 cows (IRR of 19 per cent), 400 cows (IRR of 32 per cent) and 600 cows (IRR of 61 per cent). These IRR values could be obtained if one person could be removed from the dairy for the whole year. If only half the potential labour savings were achieved, the 400 cow herd generated an IRR of 6 per cent. Only the 600 cow herd was a good investment when half the labour savings were achieved with an IRR of 19 per cent (Table 2).
Table 2: Assumptions and results for installation of ACRs into a double-up dairy.
|Dairy cluster number||16||28||50||50||50||50|
|Herd size (cows)||300||300||300||400||600||600|
|Milking time (hours)||3.9||2.2||1.3||1.7||2.5||2.5|
|Labour saving (labour units/year)||0.1||0.5||1.0||1.0||1.0||0.5|
|Years to break even (before interest)||6||3||5||3||2||5|
How did it look - Rotary?
In a rotary dairy, it was assumed that installation of ACRs could save one full labour unit over the year. For example, if it usually took three people to milk, it could now be managed with two. Under this assumption, ACR investment in a 50 unit rotary dairy, milking either 400 or 600 cows was a very attractive investment. The expected IRR for 400 and 600 cow herds were 25 per cent and 49 per cent respectively (Table 3).
Table 3: Assumptions and results for installation of ACRs into a rotary dairy.
|Dairy cluster number||50||50||50||50|
|Herd size (cows)||400||400||600||600|
|Milking time (hours)||1.5||1.5||2.2||2.2|
|Labour saving (labour units/year)||1.0||0.5||1.0||0.5|
|Years to break even (before interest)||4||9||3||6|
Is economics the only reason to install ACRs?
When investing in a physical change on farm, it is desirable for the investment to be profitable. However, it may be legitimate to invest when there are significant intangible benefits for the managers or enterprise. Some other potential benefits of ACR installation are discussed below.
The impact that ACRs have on herd health has been widely debated. ACRs can reduce over-milking and the associated mastitis infections. However, not having someone at cups-off may lead to mastitis infections being missed at the early stage. This is something that needs to be considered carefully.
Increased managerial control of the parlour
This is of particular value to those who regularly use casual staff or struggle to find reliable staff. ACRs mean that the manager can set the level that cows are milked to and that cows are milked to exactly the same level every milking.
Reduced milking time
Some American trials have shown that milking time can be reduced without impacting on milk quality or herd health by stopping milking at a high flow rate. These results have not been successfully reproduced in Australian research.
Improved worker comfort/OH&S reasons
During a typical milking in a non-automated shed, one person can lift an accumulated weight of over one tonne. By removing cupsoff, this weight may be reduced by up to one half in a double-up dairy. The reduction in handled weight may not be as great in a swing-over dairy. There is however an increased OH&S risk associated with a single person milking in a shed. It should be noted that installing labour saving devices will do little to improve working conditions in a poorly designed or maintained shed.
Flexibility and risk management
The labour reductions associated with this report may not actually be achieved in many dairies. Instead, ACRs can be used to free up labour for other tasks as they arise. Also, if an employee is unavailable at the last minute, the manager knows that the shed can be managed without them.
Labour saving devices certainly have their role in today's dairying environment, and if managed to ensure labour savings are made, ACRs can be an attractive economic investment. The intangible costs and benefits are also important factors to consider when choosing to install ACRs.
Automated Irrigation Case Study
Who: Rob and Lynne McCartney, Dairy farmers Tatura.
What: Fully automated bay outlets with telemetry control
On The Farm
What change have you implemented?
Rob and Lynne McCartney installed an AWMA automated irrigation system with telemetry on 13 fast flow outlets. The system was installed on their Tatura property about two years ago and services 20 hectares of irrigated perennial pasture bays. Additional stops and channel modifications were also installed to compliment the technology upgrade.
The automation system on each outlet has solar powered batteries that operate the gate and is linked by radio to a personal computer in the farm office via an aerial installed on the home's roof. Irrigation timing and duration can be programmed into the system to make the task of irrigating the bays fully automatic.
Why did you implement this change?
To Rob and Lynne, automation seemed to be the next step in developing their farm, once laser grading and drainage improvements were completed. The main benefits driving the installation included time saving and reductions in labour costs. They opted for telemetry over other forms of automation, such as basic clock timers, because telemetry offered a higher level of convenience. Clock timers or similar basic units would have meant there was still a need to walk around and set, or relocate, the automation units regularly.
Where did you find information to help guide you?
Rob and Lynne gained information on the technology through speaking to other farmers, professionals in the field and attending field days.
Were you able to gain any assistance for the change?
Prior to the installation, Rob and Lynne were successful in gaining a $20,000 grant through the Australian Government drought assistance program for irrigation system improvements, and obtained a further $6,600 grant through the Goulburn Broken CMA farm water savings program. Both grants contributed to the cost of purchasing and installing the automation system. See Research section below for typical system costs.
What was the result of the change and was the investment worthwhile?
Aside from some minor initial problems, Rob and Lynne believe the benefits of implementing the technology have outweighed the cost, particularly in reducing time and labour inputs. Quantifying these benefits is difficult however, because in large part they involve aspects difficult to measure, such as improvements in their lifestyle and creating greater opportunity to work on other aspects of their farm business.
Were there any set-backs when implementing the automation?
Although there was no exact blue-print to follow, Rob and Lynne were able to gain enough information to make the technology work for their specific farming situation. There is no single automation system that fits all circumstances – so despite feeling well informed, there was a slight level of risk in getting the system customised to their farm. There was an initial period where the couple found it hard to put their entire trust in the system, until it had proved itself. They still find irrigation duration sometimes requires adjustment to avoid under or over irrigation, depending upon the stage of pasture growth, grazing pressure and channel supply level variations.
A lack of training in utilising the computer software was identified as a minor issue. They found the software was not overly complicated and could be installed on their existing computer.
Why do you think the change has worked?
Automation with telemetry has worked well on this part of the McCartney's farm, which is based on perennial pasture irrigated intensively throughout the irrigation season. The major benefits are in labour and water savings, and so investment in such a technology upgrade may not be justified on irrigation bays that are not irrigated as intensively, such as those growing annual pastures and crops.
Do you think other farmers would be interested in this change?
The uptake of this technology by other irrigators would depend on a few factors, including financial resources, willingness to adopt new technologies, priorities and individual farm circumstances, and future plans. In the right setting, the system installed by Rob and Lynne McCartney can be a very useful upgrade. Technologies such as these, which make irrigation more efficient and easier on the operator, are likely to become more prevalent.
What recommendations would you give to those thinking of installing such technologies?
Rob has found it is essential to actually check channels, outlets, bays and drains regularly. With the telemetry system in place, it is easy to just assume all the infrastructure is in good order, when in fact there could be bank decay, blockages in the channel, or leaks around the stops. Channel problems such as these also have the potential to affect the irrigation schedules required, as the automation units do not allow for channel blow outs or changes in water command levels.
Any further comments?
The McCartney's Tatura farm is not yet part of the modernised channel network. The couple are interested to see how much more effective their automation units will be once their supply is modernised and they have a more reliable water supply level onto their property. Eventually, the couple would also like to look into installing soil moisture monitoring probes in their irrigation bays, and have them tied into the automatic irrigation units. This could then allow them to more closely match irrigations to the water requirements of their irrigated crops.
There has been very little research into the water savings benefits of automating bordercheck irrigation. Improved lifestyle for the farmers, and savings in labour are likely to be the major benefits in the Goulburn Murray Irrigation District (GMID). Unlike water, which varies as a cost of production from year to year, labour costs can be assumed to continue to increase into the future, especially as skilled farm labour becomes scarcer.
A desktop study based on information from two farms in northern Victoria reported by Lavis et al. (2007) concluded that bordercheck automation was associated with reductions in water use of between 5% and 9%, depending on soil type. The savings arose because with automation, irrigators could continue to irrigate bays individually and efficiently at busy times, rather than adopting the common practice of irrigating several bays at once for longer duration at lower flow rates, reducing their labour input but leading to deep drainage and water losses.
For a given border-check irrigation layout, the two factors an irrigator can control are the rate and the duration of water flow onto the irrigation bay. Both affect the quantity of water applied to the bay. Of these two controls, the duration of irrigation is the easiest to adjust, but its use has mainly been based on experience rather than science to date, because of a range of issues such as:
- variable irrigation supply levels, and therefore variable flow rates onto farms and irrigation bays, which cause inconsistencies for automated systems. Modernisation of the irrigation supply system promises to greatly improve the consistency of irrigation flow rates and alleviate this problem.
- the requirement to order water four days ahead has meant the moisture status of bays at the time of irrigation, and therefore the crop water requirement, could be quite variable. Again, system modernisation has largely removed this as a problem, with irrigators now able to order and cancel water with much less notice, meaning irrigations can now be applied more consistently with respect to crop moisture requirement.
Modernisation should provide more uniform operating conditions that are much more conducive to efficient surface irrigation automation. In addition, new metering will provide more accurate measures of the actual flow rate and volume of water applied.
Adoption of 'high flow' irrigation, at flow rates about twice the levels of recent best practice, will place greater demands on irrigators with respect to timing of irrigation duration – mistakes at high flow rates will be correspondingly greater. Adoption of automation, as made by Rob and Lynne, will help ensure they capture any water saving benefits of high flow rate irrigation.
For more information about Irrigation Technologies, go to: www.dpi.vic.gov.au/dpi/vro/vrosite.nsf/pages/lwm_farmwater_irrigation_technologies.
Talk to an irrigation surveyor and designer or one of the companies that supplies and installs automated irrigation systems.
Contact a DPI Irrigation Modernisation Officer: Echuca telephone (03) 5482 1922, Tatura (03) 5833 5700, Kerang (03) 5452 1266.
Talk to other farmers who have installed automatic irrigation and telemetry control systems.
Reference: Lavis, A., Maskey, R. and Lawler, D. (2007) Quantification of the Farm Water Savings With Automation, Department of Primary Industries, Victoria.
What do you get if you cross a computer and a burger? A big mac.
What do you get if you cross a hat factory and a field of cows? A pat on the head.
What do you get if you cross a jogger with an apple pie? Puff pastry.
What do you get if you cross a pastry and a scary film? A Cornish nasty.
Will You Approach Your Annual Use Limit This Season
Rob O'Connor, DPI Echuca.
Full high reliability irrigation allocations, large volumes of carryover water and a transition to more perennial and summer growing farm forages are likely to mean that some irrigators will approach their Annual Use Limit (AUL) this season. Doing a water budget will help determine your seasonal water requirements and will provide a means to check in advance whether planned water use this season will exceed your AUL.
AULs refer to the maximum amount of water that can be used on a property and have been developed to achieve environmental and sustainability objectives. The volume of an AUL will depend on the drainage arrangements. If the property is serviced by a reuse system and has a connection to a recognised drainage system, or is irrigated by a pressurised system, the AUL may be up to 10 megalitres/hectare. If there is either a reuse system or a connection to a recognised drainage system, the limit can be up to 7.2 megalitres/hectare. Where the property has neither a re-use system nor a drainage connection, 5 megalitres/hectare will generally be the maximum.
If you believe your annual water usage will exceed your AUL in this or future seasons, you can apply to have your AUL increased. Goulburn-Murray Water has been working with customers who exceeded their AUL last year. If you would like to discuss or clarify your AUL you can contact G-MWs Land Transactions Team, telephone (03) 5826 3242.
AULs need to be considered in developing water budgets, farm forage mixes and feed plans for dairy farms. In the longer term, if you plan to increase the area of perennial or summer forage species, you may need to apply to increase your AUL.
For water budgeting, water requirements over a full season for perennial pasture are usually in the range of 8 to 12 megalitres/hectare and for lucerne are 6 to 10 megalitres/hectare. Summer crops will typically need between 4 to 8 megalitres/hectare depending on the crop type and the season.
Irrigation requirements for annual pasture in autumn will vary depending on the start-up time. Usually the first irrigation in autumn will use between 1 to 3 megalitres/hectare and subsequent irrigations will typically use 0.5 megalitres/hectare.
When doing a water budget this season don't forget to consider any carryover water that may be 'written off' due to spill. A five per cent deduction of the carryover volume is also made for evaporation. Some of the water you carried over in to this season may be locked in the Spillable Water Account until a declaration of a low risk of spill is made by G-MW. This declaration is not likely to be made for the Murray, Goulburn and Campaspe irrigation systems until December 2012 or early 2013.
A handy way of keeping track of volumes you have lost due to spill and the volume of water you have available for use or trade (in your Allocation Bank Account), is to access your water Usage Report on WaterLINE OnLine, through the Goulburn-Murray Water web site. You will also find your AUL volume in your Usage Report.
If you would like more information on farm water budgeting or forage mixes please contact Rob O'Connor DPI Echuca, telephone (03) 5482 0417, or Tom Farran DPI Tatura, telephone (03) 5833 5297.
- Keep an eye out for signs that the diet is not balanced. Signs may include:
- Rapid or sustained condition loss.
- Rapid loss of production.
- Fat and protein levels. A lack of fibre can result in a low fat test; a low protein test may be the result of insufficient energy.
- If less than half the cows are chewing their cud while resting there may be a lack of fibre.
- 'Crapology' - loose, smelly manure could mean the cow is suffering from acidosis; solid manure indicates a high fibre level and possibly a lack of protein and energy.
- Do the cows look visually poor - dull, sunken eyes, scruffy coat, hunched back? These are all signs that the cow is not well and the cause may have something to do with the diet.
- Keep watching for those cows coming on heat, as well as checking any non-cycling cows.
- Check there is enough bull power – one bull per 30 empties, plus one spare. This will allow bulls to be rested that have a high workload or develop sore feet.
- Take action to reduce heat stress – give the cows access to shade where possible, use sprinklers in the dairy to help cool cows and make sure plenty of clean drinking water is available.
- Keep an eye on hay stacks for signs of heating and consider insuring your hay
- Watch the weekly grain and hay reports on the Dairy Australia website www.dairyaustralia.com.au
- Remember to take some time out to enjoy the company of friends and family over the summer months.
International Dairy Week 2013
International Dairy Week (IDW) 2013 will run from Sunday 20 to Thursday 24 January in Tatura.
Special features include:
- ABS Australia/Ridley Dairy Feeds National All Breeds Youth Show – Monday 21;
- IDW Jersey Showcase Sale – Tuesday 22;
- Dairy and Machinery Expo – Wednesday 23 and Thursday 24;
- IDW Semex Holstein Spectacular Sale – Wednesday 23;
- Genetics Australia Australian Elite Genetic Merit Sale – Thursday 24 January.
This is the second year that IDW will feature a Dairy and Machinery Field Day in its program as the largest dairy show in Australia.
Free seminars will be given by industry experts on a wide range of subjects from industry outlook to genomics and other technical topics. Please check the program for details.
For more information please visit the IDW website www.internationaldairyweek.com.au.
2013 Dairy Innovators' Forum
The Australian Dairy Conference (ADC) will host the Dairy Innovators' Forum in February 2013 in Queensland at the Twin Waters Resort on the Sunshine Coast.
Commencing on Monday 24 February, the program will feature tours and a two-day forum.
For more information please visit the Dairy Innovators' Forum website, www.australiandairyconference.com.au or contact conference organiser Esther Price, telephone 1800 177 636.
The ADC and Dairy Australia are offering scholarships for young dairy farmers to attend the forum. For more information please contact Murray Dairy, telephone 5833 5312, or talk directly to the conference organisers.