Smart Farms Small Grants

With drier climates and a growing population, Perth NRM has been working with the North of Perth Food Zone to implement 'smart farm' technologies to improve irrigation practices.

Background

There have been increasing pressures on water resources in the North Wanneroo and Gingin areas in the last decade where our hotter, drier climate and less rainfall in the SW of the State, with increased use, has seen ground water resources challenged. Population growth has seen the extraction of water increase for all uses with some over allocation of ground water.

In January 2019, Minister Alannah MacTiernan announced a State Government proposal to reduce groundwater allocations to growers in the North Wanneroo area by 10% from 2028 to meet future need.

To comply, growers will need to adapt with options including reducing their production area, purchasing or leasing water from other irrigators, purchasing water from alternative water sources (if they become available), or improving their water use efficiency.

This has reinforced the need for further water efficiency programs to assist growers to adapt prior to the proposed reduction being enforced.

Research indicates that most fruit, vegetable and turf growers on the Swan Coastal Plain are not currently using soil moisture sensors or evaporation data to schedule their irrigation events.  The growers generally make irrigation decisions based on subjective observations such as the appearance of the plant / tree, the soil, past experience and or daily temperature predictions.

Properly designed irrigation systems, combined with the use of soil moisture sensors, improves irrigation efficiency and enables demonstration of responsible water use.

Overview

In 2018, Perth NRM was funded by the National Landcare Program and the City of Wanneroo to assess the practical use and adoption of improved soil water and nutrient monitoring practices by horticulturalists in the North of Perth Food Zone.

Agronomist Neil Lantzke worked on the project with fruit, turf and a vegetable grower in North Wanneroo and West Gingin areas, plus City of Wanneroo staff at a public open space in Landsdale.

The uniformity of irrigation systems was measured and soil moisture sensors (tensiometers and capacitance probes) were installed on eleven properties (2 avocado, 2 citrus, 2 mango, 4 turf properties and Kingsway Reserve, Landsdale) with all sites located on sandy soils.

The soil moisture probes were connected to loggers with growers trained to view the soil moisture data digitally with evapotranspiration (ETo) data, to more accurately schedule irrigation in real time using mobile phone or computer.

Soil, leaf and water analysis was conducted to assist growers develop improved fertiliser programs.

Growers gained a better understanding of how to interpret trends in the data and the benefits and limitations of soil moisture sensing.

Most growers involved in the study now view the soil moisture data regularly and use the information to program their irrigation.

The overall response to the study has been positive and some growers have bought additional soil water sensors and installed them in other irrigation blocks on their properties.

Irrigator Sector Outcomes


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