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29th August 2019

Irrigation Technologies and Sustainability Report

Executive summary

This report presents the findings of a survey that was conducted in June – November 2018 in the Bundaberg region, Queensland, Australia. The questionnaire method was employed, and data was obtained from a total of 52 producers and 15 professionals working in the agricultural industry. The purpose of the research was to benchmark the adoption of irrigation technologies in order to identify opportunities for improvement and to inform future research, development and extension (R, D & E) activities.

In total, 98% of the respondents answered that they irrigate both their primary and secondary crops, which emphasises the important role irrigation plays in the agricultural industry in the region. The drip system, micro-sprinklers and overhead sprinkler systems are widely used in the study area. Overall, the majority of the producers surveyed rated the efficiency of their irrigation systems very highly, with the drip system (subsurface and on-ground) taking the lead. Nonetheless, more than half the producersrecognised that their systems had the potential for further improvement. To this end, about a third of the respondents indicated that they had either undertaken or planned to undertake some major changes to their irrigation system in order to improve efficiency of water use.

The survey showed that there are certain barriers that impact on the adoption of irrigation technologies, with financial constraints by far being the major impediment. Other key issues include: non-clarity on the benefits of adopting the improved technologies, low farm profitability, and difficulty identifying the appropriate technology. On the issue of knowledge and understanding of irrigation technologies and practices, more than 90% of the producers indicated that they relied on their past experiences on the farm (learning by doing). 

The main issues requiring further research and future risks to the irrigated agriculture include:

  • Cost benefit analysis and profitability of agricultural businesses as a whole.
  • Automation, labour cost and availability.
  • Rising electricity/fuel costs, and farm input costs in general.
  • Use of renewable energy (e.g. solar pumps for pumping irrigation water).
  • Water access/quality.
  • Pests and diseases.

From the above, the following R, D & E areas of focus have been identified:

  1. The agricultural sector is largely dependent on the availability of water for irrigation. Efforts need to be made to ensure water access to irrigators continues into the future. Issues that threaten the quality and availability of water need to be addressed.
  2. There is interest among producers to harness the benefits of automation, use of sensors to monitor a number of parameters, and drones for water management purposes. These are new technologies and further applied research is required in order to optimise their use.
  3. The rising cost of power/fuel emerged as a major concern in the survey as it has a direct impact on farm profitability and sustainability. A number of producers are already using solar pumps to cut pumping costs. Further research into ways of lowering the cost of power/fuel, including the use of renewable energy such as solar is required.
  4. Professional irrigation evaluation/audit by qualified/accredited irrigation professionals would help the producers identify issues with their irrigations systems and prescribe appropriate measures that can be employed in order to optimise their water use efficiency.
  5. In some cases, producers need support in order to identify the appropriate technology to use. This is a role that can be filled by the agricultural extension service, including those employed by the public sector and grower organisations. 

Download the full Report