If you ask farmers what water is worth, they might say ‘a livelihood’. In an Australian first, a new study in Manjimup, 300km south of Perth, aims to drill down to a dollar figure by calculating the economic returns for every mega litre of water used for irrigation.
The Food Agility CRC project is led by Curtin University in collaboration with the Western Australian Government, Southern Forest Food Council, local 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 three-year project targets avocado, apple, wine grape,stone fruit, vegetable and truffle farms, which make up about 90 per cent ofhorticultural production in the Warren-Donnelly catchment.
About the project – calculating value for crop, farm and whole region.
Researchers will install digital water flow meters and soil moisture probes on multiple blocks of each produce type, measuring 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.
At the end of the season, researchers will calculate water productivity for each commodity type (profit per megalitre). Farmers will be able to see their water data and how their block performed compared with other de-identified farmers in their group. Farmers will only be able to see their own data, with researchers applying best-practice data privacy methods.
After two seasons, the team will aggregate the data to create a regional model of water use for agriculture and its flow-on economic benefits, for example to local businesses, health and education.
The data will help farmers make short and long-term decisions about farm management, targeting the practices that help them get the most value out of their water. The project will benefit not only the Warren-Donnelly catchment but will also be a pilot for other horticultural production communities.
Quotes from project participants:
Bevan Eatts, Morning Glory Farm, Director of Southern Forest Flavours
“It’s really important that producers understand their exact water usage, the value of the water and the cost of growing those crops… This project will arm our industry with the true value of water and what it brings back to the community. The ultimate goal is to get more crop per drop.”
Dr Mike Briers, Food Agility CRC CEO
“We want to show how the value of water flows through farms into local communities, supporting the businesses and services that make up life in a regional town. We hope that Manjimup will become an example of efficient, data-driven water management for other agricultural regions.”
Professor Mark Gibberd, Director, Centre for Crop and Disease Management, Curtin University
“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. 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.
Rohan Prince, Director of Horticulture Research &Industry Innovation, WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development
“This project will bring together researchers with growers,irrigation and agronomic professionals, to support best practice irrigation decisions.”