AUTOMATED irrigation systems could soon be the reality for farmers with commercial trials due to start soon.
Irrigation technology was one of the topics discussed at last week’s Water For Profit forum at Longford, which was attended by about 120 farmers. Researcher Alison McCarthy, from the University of Southern Queensland’s National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture, gave participants an update on her project to automate irrigation.
“The end game is an irrigation system that knows when to turn on and how much to apply everywhere in the field,” Ms McCarthy said.
“And also being able to do that with some optimisations.” To do this, the information farmers use to make irrigation decisions must be included, such as crop needs, weather conditions, soils types and the plants themselves. “It’s about knowing how to incorporate all that together to make a decision rather than relying on one or two streams of data,” Ms McCarthy said. “There’s a lot of work in monitoring the different areas in your field and analysing that if you are going to go for the variable rate and a lot of that is not practical at the moment.”
She said research suggested only 10 per cent of farmers who bought variable rate irrigation equipment continued to use it over the long term.
“It’s really about that support, you get the hardware but for a lot of the systems there isn’t much support there or experience as well for people to share on how they use the systems,” she said. Automated systems will be able to adapt to different crops and also help farmers who may be trialling new crops. Ms McCarthy said the aim of the research program was to develop a commercial ready automated system. “We will actually be trialling a fully autonomous irrigation system,” she said.