Article by Valley Irrigation
An interview with Craig Chandler: TEAM Irrigation, Sean Mooney: Ruralco Water, Michael Millner: Geurie Grower
Photos by Tony Quigley: Grower
Recent drought in Australia, especially Queensland and New South Wales (NSW), has taken a heavy toll on agriculture and on growers in the region. Similar to the American practice of naming hurricanes and winter storms, people Down Under have started calling this extended round of drought “The Big Dry.”
According to the Bureau of Meteorology and BBC News, southern Australia has just experienced its second-driest autumn on record. Less than 10 mm (0.39 inches) of rain were recorded in NSW in July, and 23% of NSW was classified as experiencing “intense drought,” with the remainder in drought or “drought-affected.”
Craig Chandler, General Manager of TEAM Irrigation, a Valley® dealer with locations in Dubbo and Rutherford, calls the drought “devastating.” And it’s not the first drought Australia has felt during his 31 years of experience. “It was the last thing the agriculture industry needed after a succession of dry years and the ‘millennial drought’ from 2004 to 2007.”
Sean Mooney, a Water Broker with Ruralco Water, offers more perspective. “The ‘big dry’ is having a negative impact on farmers and regional communities,” and has spread into areas of NSW that usually receive higher amounts of rainfall. Local feed sources are nearly exhausted and water storage dams have had historically low inflows – only 26% of the previous record low, he says.
Fortunately, center pivot and linear irrigation offer solutions for drought.
Robert Millner operates Geurie Homestead near Dubbo, part of a third-generation family farm that has diversified into irrigation. Their 3,000-hectare (7,400-acre) operation includes beef cattle, hay and grain production and various row crops. These include irrigated sweet corn, Sorghum, Lucerne, cereal grains and oil seeds. 390 hectares (964 acres) are under six Valley center pivots.
Millner says the drought has severely limited the area and diversity of crops they have been able to produce this year. They have been unable to perform any dryland cropping because their dryland areas failed even to germinate.
“Our operation has been forced to change the way we operate,” Millner explains. “We sold young cattle at lighter weights than usual and reduced breeding numbers. The drought also soaked up large amounts of hours in terms of hand-feeding our stock daily, and reduced levels of ground cover due to over-grazing.”
The drought hasn’t reduced their irrigation production, although it did change their crop rotation; they now must use more irrigated land to produce fodder.
“Pivots allow us to produce large amounts of irrigated grain and hay so we always have feed at hand – although the drought has all but depleted our plentiful reserves,” Millner says. “We planned on having more than enough for one year – but it has been an extremely long dry spell.”
- Increased efficiency through sprinkler packages;
- Longer drops just above (or sometimes into) the crop canopy, to minimize wind drift and evaporation;
- Reducing sprinkler spacing to 40 inches or less;
- Increasing the number of sprinklers on that reduced spacing;
- Lower-pressure sprinklers, reducing droplet sizes and minimizing wind drift; and
- A complete audit of pumping systems.