Farm advice: Getting the most out of your irrigator in challenging conditions 

IrrigationNZ offers some advice on how to cope through the dry conditions this summer

There’s a lot set to happen in the ‘water’ space with the impeding decisions about the National Freshwater Policy proposals as well as this year being an election year, and I’m sure more things will pop up as they always do.

Irrigation is vital at this time of year, and so is water use management 

This year is set to be a busy one for IrrigationNZ, with a highlight on the calendar being our 2020 ‘Water for Life’ Conference, which I would strongly encourage you to come along to. It’s a great chance to expand your knowledge about water use, what is happening on farm and within the agriculture industry, and to meet others and hear their stories. Please make sure you check out waterforlife.kiwi to learn more and register.

With a new year comes the summer months ahead, which can be a trying time for farmers and growers due to dry conditions. Things have certainly dried out here in Canterbury. Irrigating farmers will now be trying to maximise every drop of water and make sure it’s used as effectively and efficiently as possible. To get through the next few months irrigators will need to manage their water allocation and make some decisions about what the priorities are.

Check your equipment

Although it may seem like a bit of a hassle checking your irrigation equipment is performing to specifications is important, especially at this time of the year. Checking your irrigation equipment is well maintained and performing to specifications will minimise downtime, leakage, or delivery problems.

Some systems may be 20–50% out and using more water than you need. Calibration checks can save a lot of water and are easy to carry out. IrrigationNZ has a free ‘Check it – Bucket Test’ app, which can be used to check irrigators are applying water evenly.

The app is available from Google Play or the App Store. As the irrigation season goes on, regular maintenance checks are essential. Checking pressure and sprinklers is recommended. Re-nozzling might help stretch out water for longer but this should be done under the advice of a qualified irrigation designer. 

Irrigation scheduling

Scheduling is also critical when your water supply is likely to be limited. With water meters in place, you should be keeping a close eye on how much water is being used and regularly reviewing soil moisture levels and crop requirements. Sitting down and planning your water budgets will enable you to work out how best to allocate water over the coming months.

Farmers who operate several irrigation systems should think about using their most efficient irrigation systems more than their least efficient systems to help make the best use of their water allocation. 

Soil moisture monitoring

This technology is also very helpful. You should check this every day, so you know when to irrigate and how much water to apply. Understanding which soils are the least productive and which are the most productive can help you identify which areas would benefit most from irrigation if the water is limited.

If you have stock, then placing your most productive animals on good pasture makes sense while less productive stock could be put in areas without irrigation or with less pasture. Involve your staff in a plan to manage your irrigation systems. If water is limited, make sure they understand that any leaks or operating issues need to be fixed as soon as possible. 

Something else that’s important to remember at this time of the year is the strong winds that can be experienced and the potential damage that they can cause to irrigators. New Zealand weather patterns are known for being variable and unpredictable.

It’s important to stay connected to have the best chance of being aware of high winds expected. It’s important that everyone in the business understands what the agreed farm plan is if strong winds are on the way.

This could include the method of ‘Point, Park, Anchor’. Everyone should understand their responsibilities and the process. This should also include what happens after the winds have passed. All the best for the rest of the irrigating season. 

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