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Irrigation In Australia – An Overview

Irrigation In Australia – An Overview

Australia is the driest inhabited continent on the planet. With 70% of its area being arid or semi-arid land. Areas which on average receive 250mm of rainfall or less are classed as Arid with the semi-arid zone being defined as places that receive between 250-350mm of rainfall on average.

Irrigation in Australia is essential to produce the quantity of food needed to feed its population.

In this article, we are going to take a deeper look at everything there is to know about Irrigation in Australia and have a look at the different options and types of irrigation available.

What Is Irrigation? 

Before we talk in more detail about Irrigation, let’s briefly cover what it is.

The answer is simple – we are talking about artificially applying water to land. Doing so assists in the production of crops.

Irrigation is a key part of agricultural production, especially in Australia due to the aridity of the country. Around 23% of the total gross value of agricultural commodities are represented by irrigated agricultural production.

Benefits of Irrigation

Irrigation is used as a substitute for rainfall and therefore helps the overall production of crops.

The use of irrigation also allows more flexibility in farming systems and also improves the quality of the crop.

Types of Salinity

One of the main problems with irrigation is that it can cause Salinity.

Irrigation salinity occurs when the saline groundwater tables rises due to high volumes of water have been added to the crop/ soil.

If the water used to irrigate comes from salty sources (eg. a bore with high salt content), the salinity will be worse.

Here are some tips to avoid salinity:

  • Avoid over-irrigation, monitor soil moisture
  • Select good crops and maximize the extraction of water
  • Minimize the fallow periods
  • Avoid deep rigging, so that you can minimize the infiltration of water
  • Maintain good fertility levels
  • Collect and control water below the plant roots
  • Draw down the regional water table and maintain it below the root zone with the use of large bores or bore fields

Different Types of Irrigation 

There are several different types of Irrigation which can all be useful for different purposes.

Level Basin Systems

In level basin systems water is applied at high volumes which achieves a rapid and even ponding of the application with basins.

Furrow systems

This type of irrigation uses a small series of channels which allows the guidance of water down a slope and over a paddock. Usually, furrows are straight, however, they can be curved which allows them to follow the shape of the land.

Flood or border check systems

One way these systems differ from other types of irrigation is that they divide the paddock into bays. The bays are separated by ridges which are parallel or border checks. The water travels down the paddock’s slope while it’s guided by ridges.

Similar to furrow systems, flood or border check systems are also often curved so that they follow the shape of the land.

This type of irrigation is usually best suited to vineyards, orchards, pastures, or grain crops.

Hand move sprinkler systems

Our next type of irrigation is hand move sprinkler systems. These systems are lightweight pipeline sections that have to be manually moved to create irrigation.

They are normally connected to a mainline which is either portable or sometimes buried beneath the ground. This type of system is usually only used for smaller and irregular areas, as they are not effective enough to be used on large pieces of land.

They also aren’t usually used for field crops which can grow quite tall, as they are quite difficult to reposition. As the name suggests, there is more labour involved with this sprinkler, than with all other sprinklers.

Center-pivot sprinkler systems

Center-pivot sprinkler systems are self-propelled systems. In these systems, a single line is supported by a single row of mobile towers. The line is usually suspended to around 2 to 4 meters from the ground.

The water is pumped through the centre of the pivot. When the towers rotate around the pivot point, it makes sure a large circular area is irrigated.

Water is distributed while the pipeline rotates.

The outer circle moves faster than the inner circle, but they still receive the same amount of water.

Solid set and fixed sprinkler systems

A solid set and fixed sprinkler system is a stationary type of irrigation.

The pipelines for these systems are usually fixed beneath the soil surface. The sprinkler nozzles, however, are above the surface.

These solid-set systems are also often used in orchards or vineyards to protect against frost and crop cooling.

Another place where these types of systems are widely used is on turf and landscaping.

Traveling gun sprinkler systems

Traveling gun systems make use of a large sprinkler which is mounted on top of a wheel or in some cases a trailer. This system is fed by a flexible rubber hose.

Inside of this type of irrigation, the sprinkler which is used is self-propelled while it applies water to the field. The water travels through a lane which is guided by a cable.

Traveling gun sprinkler systems require the use of high-operating pressures, for example, 100 psi.

Side-roll wheel-move systems

The next type of irrigation is side-roll wheel move systems.

These systems have wheels that have a large diameter mounted on top of the pipeline allowing the line to be rolled out collectively as a unit to positions on the field.

In these types of systems, the pipeline is usually 1 meter off the ground which makes the choice of crop an important factor.

Low-flow irrigation systems

Another type of irrigation system is low-flow irrigation. This also includes drip and trickle.

The tubes of this system have a small diameter and they are placed above or sometimes also below the surface of the soil. The applications of water are frequent, yet slow and they are applied through small holes or sometimes emitters.

A network of main, sub-main, and lateral lines supplies the emitters used. The water is dispensed directly and avoids any runoff while minimizing the evaporation inside of the system.

Just like many other types of irrigation, this system is commonly used in orchards, vineyards, and other types of crops with a high value.

Linear or lateral-move systems

The systems have similarities to center-pivot systems, which were covered earlier.

The main differences are the lateral line and towers because they move in a continuous straight path over a rectangular field.

Water used is usually supplied through a flexible hose, however can also be pressurized through a ditch which is concrete-lined through the edge of the field.

History of Irrigation in Australia

On a global scale, irrigation has been around for a very long time.

The first time the concept of irrigation was used was in 6000 BC. This was during the time of the ancient Egyptians who used the water of the rivers Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates rivers. When these rivers would flood the water would be diverted to fields for around 40-60 days to water the fields.

However, in Australia, the first private irrigation schemes were during the 19th century. It was around the year of 1830 where private irrigation first appeared in Australia. One river that was used in the mid-1830s was the Clyde river.

Early irrigation (late 1800 – 1901)

Later on, in this century between the late 19th century and the early 20th century, there was good rainfall in the Southern Riverina region. This region then was an opportunity for graziers that were settling the land.

After regular droughts, landowners started to use the process of irrigation, as they used pumps that were driven by stream to pump water through their fields. However, during these times this led to violent conflicts between neighbours.

Property owners in these areas also urged the NSW government for water storage dams which were used as irrigation systems. This was around 1870. In 1901 the federation of the nation was joined also by the state which offered some security to local landholders, as they came to an agreement on how water for irrigation will be used.

Disputed waters and the Hume Dam (1901-1920)

Even though the state joined the federation of the nation, an agreement on the waters was not set. The conflict which was mainly between NSW and South Australia was about the control of water resources, in particular the Murray river.

NSW was looking for a closer settlement, while South Australia wanted the water to remain in its river as they wanted to keep trading boats profitably.

In 1915, the two parties came to an agreement which was called the Murray river agreement.

Part of this agreement was the Hume Dam which started to be built in 1919. Shortly, after this in 1920, however, there was another serious drought. As a result, many walked away from the land.

The Mulwala Canal and Yarrawonga Weir (1935 to 1939)

Another famous part of irrigation history is the Mulwala canal and Yarrawonga Weir.

These started to be constructed during 1935. The construction for Yarrawonga Weir was completed in 1939 and the Mulwala Canal in 1942.

The official opening and initial delivery of water in the Berriquin District was during April of 1939. It was conducted by the NSW premier Alex Mair.

The Lawson Syphons (1939 – 1955)

When the Berriquin district opened, NSW also began work on the Lawson Syphons.

However, the problem was that they were underfunded, but the project was important for the national interest at the time and therefore it received priority. After eventually raising the loaned funds due to this priority, the Lawson Syphons project was completed around 1955.

Continuing Growth (1960’s)

During the 1960’s Australia had more drought conditions, but many farms already had access to a water supply.

The drought continued which also led to the intense use of irrigation, as it became increasingly essential for farmers. The increased use of irrigation led to improved farm incomes, as well as increased production in both quantity and quality.

Self-Determination (1975 – 1995)

The prices of water were constantly a concern for irrigators. During 1975 there were some protests and some irrigators also believed they should start running the irrigation systems themselves. In 1987 there was another major rise to the prices, however, irrigators agreed to protest by not paying. 

The response they received from the NSW Government was positive, allowing irrigators to get more involved in operations, as well as the management of their regions.

A complete agreement came in 1995 were more than 700 irrigators voted in support of a water supply company in Southern Riverina that was fully owned by irrigators. 

Future Of Irrigation in Australia

Farming and irrigation technology is evolving quickly.

With the use of IOT and other advancements in technology and infrastructure farmers are able to irrigate easier and with more precision.

Farm Management System

Today’s farmers face more variabilities outside of their control, with every season a race to produce higher yields and use less water and energy in the process. They’re facing challenges like weather variability, increasing energy costs, limited availability of skilled labour and market volatility. Remote Irrigation can help. 

The FMS automated irrigation system helps you take matters into your own hands and tackle those challenges by optimising the efficiency of your irrigation system.

FMS is a sensor based automated irrigation system that provides real-time visibility into the operating status of motors, pumps, valves, flow rate and other parameters of your irrigation system. The intelligent automated irrigation system empowers farmers to monitor and control different aspects of the irrigation system from the convenience of a smartphone or laptop.

Inputs and costs are reduced including water, time, labour, electricity and fertilisers, whilst ensuring the optimal use of water and maximum benefit to the crop. It all adds up to increased yield and bigger profits.

Here are some of the things you can monitor using the Farm Management System:

  • Pumps
  • Pressure
  • Flow
  • Water depth
  • Pump faults
  • Motor current
  • Rainfall & Temperature
  • Total flow
  • Evaporative transpiration rate

Not only can you monitor that information, but you can also control:

  • Motor run & stop
  • Valve open/close
  • Motor reset
  • Motor/valve run time
  • Motor high pressure/level cut out
  • Motor speed
  • Pressure set point

As you can see, the future of irrigation is advancing thanks to the technology available to us on the market today. With the advanced control we have today using the farm management system, a big amount of labor has been taken off our shoulders.

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