A best-practice demonstration farm in South Australia has shown the value of new agricultural irrigation technologies; including water monitoring, pump management, and irrigation efficiency devices.

The Struan and Kybybolite Best Practice Demonstration Farm (BPDF) – occupying two sites near Naracoorte, South Australia – is a partnership between the Thomas Elder Institute (Elders’ research, development and extension facility) and the State Government’s Department of Primary Industries and Regions’ (PIRSA) Red Meat and Wool Growth Program, which is supported by Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA).

As well as showcasing the value of new ag-tech products and practices – ranging from water monitoring to virtual fencing – the farms act as a vehicle for research on pastures, crop agronomy, grazing management, genetics and meat quality.

These practices include integrated irrigation technologies, which allows BPDF staff to integrate data from a range of technologies to inform reliable decisions around irrigation scheduling.

BPDF staff use Swan Systems, a technology which incorporates data from soil moisture probes and on-farm weather stations to determine whether to irrigate.

Staff can remotely start the flood pump, by first priming the pump from a phone utilising technology from Acroflex.

PIRSA Senior AgTech Extension Officer, Robyn Terry, said data integration delivered improved results for remote irrigation systems.

“This enhances staff safety, saves time and reduces the need to drive out to the pump shed, with the likelihood of being bogged, just to turn the flood on and off,” Ms Terry said.

(From left) BPDF staff Bree Heffernan, Luke Brooksby, Andy Phelan, Ashleigh Horsnell and Robyn Terry at Struan with the property’s BushLinx weather station.

Caption: (From left) BPDF staff Bree Heffernan, Luke Brooksby, Andy Phelan, Ashleigh Horsnell and Robyn Terry at Struan with the property’s BushLinx weather station. Photo: PIRSA

Ms Terry explained that a typical day at the BPDF begins with checking various water monitoring devices, streamlined by Pairtree – a universal dashboard that centralises related but disconnected datasets from across the farm operation and supply chain.

The information is displayed in the farm lunchroom, removing the need to manually gather large datasets or manage multiple applications.

Several water monitoring devices, which measure the height of header tanks, troughs and water inlet and outlet flow, reduce the need to check on stock water by around 50 per cent.

These include technologies from Alpha Group Consulting, AKA Primary Solutions, DIT AgTech, Farmbot, Farmo and Goanna Ag.

“This technology saved 790 at-risk, pregnant ewes when the header tank at Kybybolite, a 74km return trip from the farm office at Struan, completely drained following an electrical fault,” Ms Terry said.

“The excessive rate of fall and low water level triggered an immediate alert to staff who weren’t due to check on the ewes for some days.”

Similarly, at Struan, despite a tank monitor showing it was 70 per cent full, an alert sent by the empty trough monitor alerted staff to a broken ballcock and pipe clogged with water beetles.

Water flow monitoring can alert staff to broken troughs, pipes or water leaks if water flow is high overnight when stock aren’t drinking. Relying only on tank monitor measurements of water height may not prevent leaks being found.

An analysis of the return on investment (ROI) of all water monitoring devices, including ongoing subscription costs, over three years, estimated a ROI of on average 625 per cent, with a 50 per cent reduction in time spent checking tanks and troughs.

For more information and a virtual tour of the Struan and Kybybolite Best Practice Demonstration Farm, visit the PIRSA website here.

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