As good as it gets in irrigation science

Irrigators are reporting bigger crops, better prices and greater water savings after increasing the use of science and technology on their farms.

Table grape, citrus and pistachio nut growers from the Mallee irrigation districts have spoken of the benefits of receiving irrigation incentives and training from Agriculture Victoria and the Mallee Catchment Management Authority (CMA).

Anthony Cirillo's farming story

Table grape grower Anthony Cirillo said help to install 'cutting edge technology' had resulted in bigger crops and better-quality fruit using 'the same, if not less, water.'

My name's Anthony Cirillo and I jointly manage and own table ground property out here with my father Vince, brother Bruno and brother Marc. The property was purchased by my father and uncle and grandfather in 1987 so we've always been interested in keeping up-to-date with all the latest cutting-edge technology based on the demand now for a higher quality need in our export markets and be an export focused that's the main driver behind it,  plus the efficiency of use of water. It's not a cheap item any more and it's a precious item that we need to think quite seriously when we’re using it.

This program has definitely helped fast-track that process of converting from the older-style irrigation methods to the drip irrigation and also helped us introduce the farm to soil moisture probes and scheduling equipment.

The biggest key element of surprise to us was what we expected looking from the top of the soil to what's actually in under the soil, how layers change so quick and unexpectedly within the same even say 20 acres of land. You know that just little things like that that you had no really idea of before assuming from the top of the soil really makes a difference on how we manage going forward. Which is obviously I suppose in the end helped us grow better fruit, more fruit with the same if not less water.

Experience on the land,  on the actual land itself is one thing but actually having scientific evidence on a chart in front that you can basically quantify it takes that knowledge to a whole new level.

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Domenic Sergi's farming story

SJDC Produce director Domenic Sergi said help to install soil moisture monitoring equipment had resulted in an earlier harvest which 'has obvious benefits in terms of price.'

'I think the incentive program really worked for me because with the training we were able to work out what to plant and what was suitable for our property and the incentives they provided allowed me to make sure that the systems that we put in were state-of-the-art,' Mr Sergi said.

I'm Dominick Sergey I'm a director at SJDC produce. We grow table grapes and have a young planting of citrus and we've been around for 40 years. It's my father's and my grandfather's properties.

I think the incentive program really worked for me because with the training we were able to work out what to plant and what was suitable for our property and the incentives they provided allowed me to make sure that the systems that we put in were state-of-the-art.

There were two main systems or targeting. One was the scheduling equipment which was the installation of new soil moisture monitoring equipment and the upgrade of some outdated gear.

It allows us to effectively from our phone or our computer see what the water levels are at in the soil and schedule our water accordingly. The other major part of it was the system  upgrade which was essentially upgrading outdated inefficient water infrastructure to the drip and cooling system systems that we have out there now.

It's all about saving water. It's all about precision irrigation with drip lines you can apply fertilisers directly to the soil to the plant in a quick and easy manner.

Because of our soil moisture monitoring equipment we have been able to increase the colouring of the fruit, bring it on a little bit earlier which has resulted in earlier harvest which has obvious benefits in terms of price which is what we're all looking for as growers.

Of course, we were always going to plant a certain patch of citrus and based on our own assessment we figured that one property would be the most suitable. After conducting the soil surveys we actually realized that there were large swaths of heavy ground throughout the middle of the property even though around the edges of the property it was quite suitable for citrus. So we actually relocated that planting to another of the properties we were developing in.

We're much better off for it. We're always trying to improve our farms our infrastructure so anything that can contribute towards that and help us bring our systems to modern standard to best practices is something the whole family will pursue.

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Chris Rayner's farming story

Merbein Pistachios farm manager Chris Rayner said the technical knowledge and understanding he could now apply to their 60-hectare planting was 'as good as it gets.'

'The core benefits really are what you learn during the process,' Mr Rayner said. 'The financial side of things is just a bonus at the end.'

Irrigation in horticulture is now a science. If you're not doing it right you've been wasteful.

Hi I'm Chris Rainer. I'm a farm manager here at Merbein Pistachios. We contract farms 60 hectares of young pistachio trees which will be mature in three to five years.

This originally was four separate old grape properties where the original dried fruit had been pulled and changed over to wine grapes so there was a very much hodgepodge of four separate pump sites and mixed irrigation.

Now we've replaced it with brand new PVC, brand new pumps, monitoring equipment and we can actually dial into the irrigation system just from the internet from anywhere in the world so it is literally as good as it gets.

The incentive program requires quite a few things to be checked off to be become eligible for rebate incentives. What I needed to do myself was attend an irrigation management course. We also needed to have drainage and irrigation plans drawn up by certified designers. We needed to do soil testing to see what the soils could handle.

The core benefits really are what you learn during the process. The financial side of things is just a bonus at the end of the whole process. Learning about the hydraulics of pressurised systems is a great thing for anyone who is a professional farmer.

Learning about soil types and understanding what soils you have to work with to me it's a must-have for any farmer. If we hadn't have changed the irrigation practices that was across the board on four blocks, yes capital investment would have been a lot lower but it would have been a massive headache come full production and sooner or later we'd have to pay that price with interest.

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The growers were supported by the Mallee CMA's Irrigation Efficiency Incentives Program open to irrigators for work that can be shown to save water, prevent salinity and protect native vegetation.

They also attended irrigation management and drip maintenance courses run by Agriculture Victoria that provided them with information about Mallee soils, how to apply the right amount of water at the right time and information about scheduling tools and programs to get the timing of irrigations right.

These growers improved their irrigation management by upgrading infrastructure, adopting new scheduling tools and doing soil surveys that gave them a better understanding of how best to irrigate their land, manage their crops and not over-water.

More information

For more information on Agriculture Victoria's support for irrigators see our irrigation pages.

Mallee Catchment Management Authority has information on incentive programs.

Page last updated: 27 May 2024