Start planning now for 'intense' El Nino event

IrrigationNZ CEO Andrew Curtis says farmers must start planning for an intense El Nino event that could lead to a shortage of water.

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From all accounts, we are entering another season like last year. For irrigating farmers that means planning now for how you will use your seasonal irrigation volumes as a severe El Nino could mean many farmers run short of water half-way through this season.

Last month NIWA predicted that the current El Nino pattern is on track to be ‘the second most intense since 1950’. We’re seeing evidence of this already as soils around the country dry out fast and irrigators in full swing as temperatures rise.

Guidelines released recently by the Ministry of Primary Industries will help farmers as they prepare for El Nino.

Irrigation NZ’s advice to irrigators is use irrigation water efficiently and plan for water restrictions. It’s important to put in place plans for how you will spread your water allocations further this season.

Timing is everything in a marginal season. Irrigating farmers need to start the season well and maintain consistent performance. Inefficient irrigation now will have a huge impact on whether your irrigation volume will see you through to March. Irrigation scheduling is central to this, particularly now irrigators are limited in the water they have through seasonal volumes. With water meters in place, irrigating farmers should be keeping a close eye on what they are using, regularly reviewing soil moisture levels and crop requirements and applying water efficiently as possible. Off the back of another dry winter there’s no room for wastage or poor performance as every drop will be needed this summer. We recommend sitting down and planning your water budgets so you know exactly where you are at.

Alongside appropriate irrigation scheduling, checking irrigation equipment is well maintained and performing to specification will minimise down-time, leakage or delivery problems. Ensuring irrigators are working as they should guarantees you’re getting the best from the water you apply. Some simple early season calibration checks can save a lot of water over the season and are a no-brainer to execute. Some systems may be 20 to 30 percent out and using more water than you need will shorten your irrigation budget significantly. 

As the season goes on, regular maintenance will be essential. Checking pressure and sprinklers is recommended. Down the track when we get squeezed, water re-nozzling might help stretch volumes out for longer. Alternatively if you operate a number of irrigation systems, plan ahead now to shut off the less efficient ones; long laterals in pivot corners for example if water restrictions start to bite. That way you can continue to operate more efficient irrigators such as pivots and linear moves for longer.

The key to surviving this summer will be all about preparation and support is available for irrigating farmers to arm themselves before El Nino worsens.

Irrigation NZ’s website includes checklists and guidelines covering early season maintenance and we offer training workshops and resource books to upskill irrigators who need advice. This month, it’s also rolling out a SMART Irrigation awareness campaign to remind farmers of the pathways to become SMART Irrigators. With an intense El Nino breathing down our neck and depressed dairy price, it’s more relevant than ever to be talking about how we can save money, time and energy by moving towards more efficient and effective irrigation practice.

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