Water for life
In our changing climate, water has become one of our most precious resources. Some farmers are looking to the longer-term and taking a strategic approach to shore up sustainable, efficient systems well into the future.
Koonongwootong farmers David and Rahel Bunge had 'enough' water on their property, but could see the impact of the changing climate around them, so decided to get proactive about securing their supply.
David and Rahel Bunge graze cattle, some sheep and do a small amount of cropping on their property. Before 2005, they were reliant on small dams and creeks and two reliable bores for their water.
"We weren't in a serious water predicament, we just wanted to be proactive and secure a reliable water supply to reticulate throughout the entire property," David said.
The Bunges had been thinking about the issue for some time and, having been involved in Landcare and whole farm planning, also wanted to fence off most of their waterways and engage in efficient rotational grazing.
The first step was to build a key dam with a capacity of about 50 megalitres. This would centralise the water supply and reduce reliance on smaller dams.
A consultant then calculated their peak water demand, which was about 50,000 litres during summer, and designed a high-flow system suited to their power capacity and water supplies. The system has two Airwell pumps – one at the dam and one at a bore – which deliver water to several storage tanks ranging in capacity between 5000 and 26,000 gallons.
Water can be gravity-fed from each of the tanks, or the whole system can be switched to pressure.
Since its installation, the system has proven itself virtually maintenance-free. The only issues to which David and Rahel have had to attend have been the replacement of the solenoid on the pump every two years and the occasional need to clean grit from the bore.
Most importantly, it has given the Bunges the water security they needed, even during drought.
"It actually made us money because we were able to buy stock cheaply that other farmers were being forced to sell," David said.
The end result has been a whole-farm water system that is low-maintenance and energy efficient, providing water security, adaptability and flexibility.
"It's a fully-integrated system that lets us tap into two different water sources (bore and dam) and two different delivery systems (air pressure and gravity-fed) depending on our circumstances. It's also very easy to tack on new watering points," David said.
Integrated into the Bunges' whole farm plan, the water system has provided a few surprise benefits. One of these is the delivery of pneumatic power to the cattle yards.
"I'd always dreamed of having an automatic drafting and weighing system," David said.
"The air pipe had to go past the yards anyway, so the electrician suggested rigging it so that we could connect it all up at a later date. Happily, that date occurred about 12 months later."
The electrician's professionalism also saved them money in terms of the water systems operating costs. He placed each pump as close as possible to a power source and set the generator for the compressor to off-peak electricity.
"It means we can run it at a significant price difference compared to diesel or petrol."
The system has also enabled David to subdivide and graze rotationally across the whole property leading to better pasture cover and less soil movement into dams.
This, he says, is a big benefit in terms of long-term sustainability.
"I'm keeping good grass cover, slowing water flow and keeping water in the ground."
A sustainable system for life
The upfront cost of the water system has been $80,000, or about $30 per acre – a worthwhile investment, according to the Bunges who can now run 20 to 50 DSE, depending on the season.
"It's a fair investment upfront, but I'm spreading it over the next few years and even the next generation!" David says.
The $30 per acre cost is not expensive compared to the cost of renovating a paddock, he believes.
"What's more, you've got it for life and you can continue to improve it."