Helping Irrigation Schemes Balance Water and Improve efficiency

There is, perhaps, no resource more valuable than water. It is needed to drink, grow our food, keep our ecosystems healthy and even supplies the majority of our electricity.

Contrary to what some may think, New Zealand does not have a water shortage, it just happens to come at the wrong time of the year. This can be a problem during the summer in the Canterbury region, when drought conditions are never far from a farmer’s mind.

As a result, irrigation schemes have been developed, which provide water to thousands of farmers. There are many advantages of being part of an irrigation scheme. They generally provide a reliable water supply, allowing farmers to make better decisions around irrigation, and can even provide irrigation inareas where it was previously thought impossible.

Furthermore, irrigation schemes have been at the forefront of helping farmers improve water efficiency and adopt Good Management Practice.

Understanding the importance of irrigation schemes, we have developed solutions that help the schemes streamline their processes and better manage their water.

Water Ordering

One of the essential processes of irrigation schemes is ordering water. Depending on the scheme type, when a scheme member needs water they might text, email or fax management with the details of their requested order. Someone from the scheme must then check that the user is within their allocated consent before arranging their water allocation.

This manual water ordering process is often done using simple tools and involving only one person, who’s then under pressure to juggle many orders.

With our Water Order service, scheme members can order water through a web portal and the complex processes are automated by our system. This improves efficiency and radically reduces the risk of disastrous mistakes.

For scheme operators it saves time, as well as providing better visibility and accuracy around the user’s orders. For the users it reduces the wait time between ordering and receiving water and gives them transparency and acknowledgement of their water orders.

For many irrigation schemes that use a manual process, the time of day that an order is placed has a large impact on when the order can be fulfilled. Our service reduces this impact, and users are able to order water at all times of the day. If you would like to read about how the Rakaia River Irrigation Association has used our Water Ordering service you can read the full case study here.

Water Transfer

Irrigation schemes are at their most helpful and stressed during the summer months when water is on restriction. When this happens, schemes face the challenge of trying to fairly provide water to farmers who may need it urgently.

Many schemes use a systematic approach, randomly choosing a certain group who will receive water. However, this is not always the best solution as there will be some farmers who have access to water who don’t need it and many farmers who need it desperately but will not receive any.

This is the genesis of our Water Transfer service.  Farmers who need water can get it, and those that don’t are able to save money by selling the water they are allocated.

It works like this: scheme members can voluntarily choose to temporarily auction some of their water at a price of their choosing. Likewise, buyers bid for a volume of water with a price of their choosing – the clearing volume and price is determined by the buyer bid prices that exceed the seller’s reserve prices.

This creates a win-win solution that promotes the value of water, maximises water efficiency and economic outcomes.

Thousands of farmers rely on irrigation schemes to access water and run profitable operations. Our irrigation scheme services – Water Ordering and Water Transfer – can help streamline some of these scheme’s complex operations increasing efficiency and reducing risk. We offer affordable pricing and customisation to meet your individual scheme needs. If you are an irrigation scheme member and are interested in improving the services you offer your members, please contact us today.

Improving irrigation practices with soil moisture sensors

Farmers used to be able to rely on their experience and intuition to drive results. Today, success is found in having the best technology and information. An example of this technology is Watermetric’s soil moisture sensors that equip farmers with the best information to make decisions.  Using these sensors to improve irrigation practices will have a positive impact on both productivity and water efficiency.

Irrigation NZ indicate that current irrigation efficiency can be improved by as much as 20%, and urges farmers to develop validated irrigation practices and become water-wise. Furthermore, regional authorities have been mandating farmers to store as much as 80% of applied irrigation in the soil and allow only 20% of irrigation as drainage. However, in both instances farmers have been given no tools to measure irrigation-drainage, nor were any practices recommended to prevent this drainage.

Irrigation inefficiency is greatest during the ‘peak season’ where there is substantial irrigation drainage, mostly due to untimely irrigations (e.g. irrigation on previously wet soil or irrigation immediately preceding a rainfall event). Many farmers use a ‘just-in-case’ approach where irrigators are applied whenever supply is available, even if it isn’t needed. Few farmers use the highly more efficient ‘just-in-time’ approach, where irrigation is scheduled based on water demand, rather than supply.

Field capacity is the amount of soil moisture held in the soil after excess water has drained away. When soil is at field capacity, conditions are excellent for plants. The addition of water above field capacity wastes water, causes nitrate leaching, and depletes the soil of valuable nutrients while also contaminating the groundwater with pesticides and fertilizers. It can also drive oxygen out of the soil, suffocating the roots. This is what happens when farmers over-irrigate and use a ‘just-in-time’ approach.

On the other hand, as soil dries out from field capacity, a point is reached where plants have difficulty drawing water from the soil and experience stress. This lower limit is called the stress point. The proper moisture zone for healthy plants is between Field Capacity and the Stress Point, however, without sensor technology farmers are left guessing their soil’s moisture.

Watermetric’s soil moisture sensors provides farmers with the information required to find both the Field Capacity and Stress points and ultimately gives them the tools to implement proactive irrigation management.

Our farmers tell us that the rich descriptive data Watermetrics provides “is very useful in Spring and Autumn as it tells us when to consider starting and finishing irrigating and whether to change our irrigation schedule because of rainfall”.

Not only does this reduce water drainage and nutrient losses but it saves farmers money and results in increased farm productivity.

Read more about our soil moisture solutions here, or contact us through the form below. We would love to talk about how we can help you improve your irrigation practices.