Tasmanian farmers use drones to make irrigation more efficient

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July 27, 2017 15:52:49

Tasmanian farmer Will Bignell is busy preparing his Bothwell property for the arrival of water from a new irrigation scheme.

In a matter of months, he is expecting to benefit from the Southern Highlands Irrigation Scheme.

The $31 million project will funnel excess water from the Shannon River to 27 properties across the district.

Mr Bignell said the scheme meant he would be able to farm areas previously only suitable for sheep grazing.

“For us to get water here was never cost effective, and it's opened up this end of the farm to double our irrigation area and really increase our intensification and spread our risk,” he said.

Farms go high-tech

To maximise his return on investment Mr Bignell said using precision agricultural techniques was extremely important.

This included using drones to create detailed terrain, drainage, soil variability and irrigation maps.

The data allowed Mr Bignell to pinpoint where on his farm the extra water would be most useful.

“Farming is pretty clever these days we're not the bumpkins everyone seems to think we are,” he said.

Mr Bignell has setup an on-farm wi-fi network and will eventually control irrigators on the site via his mobile phone.

“Anywhere in the world I can control every sprinkler on it,” he said.

Mr Bignell said the heavy investment in technology was helping his farm to operate more efficiently.

“I'm going to work towards high utilisation with pastures and specialty fodders and use the water from the scheme quite smartly,” he said.

“It's a lot more expensive than what we're used to, so I've got to be very smart.”

Recent rainfall welcome

After the state's record dry start to winter there had been fears the Southernfield dam would remain empty.

But rainfall over the past week has allowed pumps at the dam to be switched on for the first time.

“It's a big relief to hear the pumps are running at the Shannon and the scheme is working,” Mr Bignell said.

Bothwell farmer and chairman of the scheme Richard Hallett said it was a significant milestone but there was still a long way to go.

“It's probably day one of what we hope to 80 or 90 days of pumping,” he said.

“Realistically we probably really need another 50mm over the next month or six weeks in order to fully harvest what we need for the forthcoming season.

“Things are still on a knife-edge.”

Once the water starts flowing, it is hoped the economic benefits will too.

“It's going to provide a lot employment and it will really transform a lot of the small regional communities around Bothwell that have certainly been in population decline for many years,” Mr Hallett said.

Topics:

water-supply,

rural,

science-and-technology,

bothwell-7030,

hobart-7000,

launceston-7250

First posted

July 27, 2017 06:23:04

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