Cane farmers on Great Barrier Reef adopt irrigation automation to fix rising groundwater, prevent run off
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For expertise fans, automation is the long run, however Queensland cane farmers hope automation will resolve an issue from the previous and, in flip, defend the Nice Barrier Reef.
- Farmers who do not have entry to rivers and dams can pump water from groundwater to irrigate their crops
- Throughout floods and droughts, or if not managed correctly, the groundwater techniques cannot replenish naturally and the water desk rises, bringing with it salts that harm crops
- Automating irrigation permits for much less water use and fewer run-off to the Nice Barrier Reef
Whereas not fairly as handy as saying, “Alexa, water my crops,” growers hope automating their irrigation can arrest many years of rising groundwater and salinity points, use much less water and stop runoff.
Steve Pilla farms at Giru, south of Townsville, the place a mix of excessive cane costs, costly electrical energy and the employee scarcity has made automation a necessity.
“I have been away [and] at conferences and the pumps simply run themselves,” he stated.
“I haven’t got to be up at two o’clock within the morning to alter the set over.”
Mr Pilla’s 150-hectare farm sits within the Burdekin, Australia’s largest sugar-growing area. Right here, because of good entry to groundwater, cane has been grown proper alongside the Nice Barrier Reef since 1875.
However simply as the standard of water flowing into the reef has come beneath scrutiny, so has the standard of the groundwater.
Lurking under the floor
Australia is the driest inhabited continent on Earth.
In response to the Nationwide Centre for Groundwater Analysis and Coaching someplace between 30 and 60 per cent of the water utilized in farming, cities and business comes from underground.
Groundwater types by seeping into the areas between soil and rock after rain.
Water flows in by way of aquifers, rivers and streams and a few groundwater techniques — like the Great Artesian Basin — are estimated to carry water that is greater than one million years outdated.
Nonetheless, traditionally, poor administration of groundwater meant it was over-allocated or overused.
This, mixed with pure disasters like droughts and floods, meant the pure replenishment of the groundwater was disrupted.
The consequence has been a rising water desk, trapping salts nearer to the floor and making a salinity drawback for farmers and the atmosphere.
Exact water use
Bryan Granshaw manages expertise for a sugarcane operation in Burdekin and has been tasked with limiting the influence of rising water.
“It has been extensively recognized for round 20 years that there is a district-wide problem with rising water tables,” he stated.
On a 112-hectare trial paddock, he has applied automated sensors that measure the moisture within the soil after which decide the quantity of water that is utilized to the crop.
Mr Granshaw stated it decreased water use with out compromising how a lot was grown.
“We now have had a 30 per cent discount in water to develop the crop, with a brand new course of of upper stream charges per furrow,” he stated.
“We have been capable of preserve manufacturing and reduce the quantity of irrigation.”
Transition to automation
Whereas farmers have been utilizing automation to mitigate rising prices and groundwater, for the Nice Barrier Reef Basis, investing within the expertise has been all about wholesome corals.
Govt director of tasks and partnerships Theresa Fyffe stated the inspiration just lately entered a $1-million partnership with a beer model to automate 600ha within the Decrease Burdekin.
“To have wholesome coral reefs, you could have wholesome water that is flowing into the reef,” she stated.
“By putting in precision irrigation techniques, you possibly can scale back the quantity of water that you just’re utilizing and scale back power.
“However you additionally scale back runoff coming off the farm.”
Agritech Options extension officer Cherrie Stockham says curiosity in water use efficiencies has grown however warns the transition to automation takes time.
“These items do not simply occur in three, six months,” she stated.
“The growers want assist and ongoing recommendation and so they should be assured in what they’re doing.
“We won’t count on them to only undertake one thing the farmer subsequent door has accomplished. They should see a enterprise case and see that it should be viable for them to do it.”
Mr Granshaw agreed that educating farmers can be crucial for continued adoption.
“The method of understanding what is going on on [with groundwater] actually must hit dwelling,” he stated.
“When you see the numbers — that you’ve got really gone out and measured on that specific paddock — then [there] turns into a neater solution to perceive what the way in which ahead is likely to be.”