Smarter Irrigation for Profit


Key findings

    1. Many operators are not getting the basics right. Conducting annual system checks including pumps, getting the start up time right and avoiding the ‘green drought’ increased productivity by 40% on some sites
    2. Variable rate irrigation can achieve productivity gains of 30%
    3. Autonomous irrigation is feasible for dairy and has potential for wider application

Smarter Irrigation for Profit -Case Studies

A selection of case studies from the Smarter Irrigation for Profit program are now available, containing key learnings from the program that farmers have applied on their farms. Smarter Irrigation for Profit – Case Studies

System checks

On-farm audits of energy efficiency and irrigation uniformity (checking irrigation systems are performing as they were designed to) found big variations in efficiencies – even with recently installed systems.

Irrigation scheduling

Monitoring soil moisture, plant condition and weather (especially the weather conditions influencing evapotranspiration) to inform decisions around timing and volume of water applied doubled productivity on some sites.


Smarter Irrigation for Profit was a partnership between the Australian Government and major irrigation industries of cotton, dairy, rice and sugar.

For a summary of all of the project findings components see Smarter Irrigation for Profit_FINAL Snapshot 

For a selection of case studies download Smarter Irrigation for Profit – Case Studies

A number of dairy focused research and extension activities formed part of the project:

  Each of these activities is described in more detail below:

Irrigation Scheduling Technologies (plant, soil, weather)

The project developed and tested an automatic irrigation module, based on the satellite/weather-based irrigation information system  in Victoria, on commercial dairy sites using flood irrigation as a preliminary step towards the whole farm automation of future irrigated farms in SE Australia. The system combined recent and forecast weather data with satellite imagery to provide local, web based crop and location specific measures of reference evapotranspiration (ETref ) and crop coefficients (Kc) for use in irrigation scheduling.

The project partnered with irrigation automation service providers to demonstrate its ability to provide reliable satellite based irrigation demand triggers to support affordable automated irrigation scheduling on dairy farms in Victoria. Final report:Smart Irrigation – scheduling tools pdf


Smart Automated Irrigation:  Develop precise and automated control systems for a range of irrigation systems.

NCE PivotThe National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture at the University of Southern Queensland is leading a project to develop precise and automated systems for a range of irrigation systems. The systems will be tested and validated at the field scale, and demonstrated to growers and potential commercial providers to encourage future industry adoption.

The project involves significant development, evaluation, field testing and engagement of potential commercial partners. Field level testing will be implemented at one centre pivot irrigated pasture site in Tasmania, one furrow irrigated cotton field near Wee Waa, NSW, one lateral move cotton site in Dalby, Queensland and one furrow irrigated sugar site in the Burdekin, Queensland. Sites will be monitored to assess both the volumetric irrigation performance and crop yields as well as technical challenges and economic cost benefit. This will assist growers and commercial providers assess the merits of adopting smart automated irrigation systems. Research partners include the CSIRO and the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture. For more information, Smart automated irrigation

Smart Automated Irrigation: Increasing farm profit through efficient use of irrigation for dairy farms James inspecting a pivot

This project, led by the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) used data and autonomous technology to help farmers make informed decisions and improve their efficiency of irrigated water use in pastures.

The project looked at the use of irrigation water in pastures by collecting data on water use, energy use and pasture production from five sites across Tasmania. Using this data, the team worked with farmers to make changes to improve water use efficiency.

The project also trialled an autonomous irrigation system. To do this, the team collaborated with The National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture at the University of Southern Queensland, who have developed a control platform called VARIWise. The VARIWise system has been developed and tested in cotton, but this is the first time it has been applied to a pasture based system. For more information see the project website or , Smart automated irrigation, dairy.

Smarter Irrigation for Profit video: James Hills presentation at the Tasmanian Water for Profit event is now online here: Smarter Irrigation Video

James Hills Article on the Green Drought “The Green Drought”

Improving Flow on Irrigation Bays

This project demonstrated to border check irrigators the benefits of an improved irrigation bay design that reduces the duration and variation of surface ponding time.

It aimed to achieve irrigation bays with shorter and more uniform ponding durations, leading to:

  • more precise irrigation applications
  • more precise irrigation scheduling
  • greater production per ML and per ha
  • less environmental impact 

For more information:


Optimised Dairy Irrigation Farms

This project supported a network of farmer managed learning sites located in major dairy regions referred to as “optimised irrigation” farms in WA, SA, Gippsland, NSW and Queensland.062

Each site tailored the technologies demonstrated based on local needs. Bench marking and measurement of water, energy and labour savings associated with adoption of innovative irrigation technologies was captured over two irrigation seasons. the associated management and skill requirements, maintenance costs and labour and lifestyle implications were also recorded. For more information, Optimised dairy irrigation farms



New South Wales Optimised Dairy Irrigation Farms,


Why monitor soil moisture? :Have a look at the short video here: Monitoring Soil Moisture

Dr James Hills and Dr Mark Harris feature in this video on irrigation scheduling : Optimising Dairy Irrigation Scheduling.

Two Gloucester farms used the Schedule Irrigation Diary in the Hunter Starting Smarter project to schedule irrigations, hear from Tom and his experiences in the project here: Tom, Hunter Starting Smarter and Adam here: Adam, Hunter Starting Smarter


Hunter Optimised Dairy Irrigation Farm (NSW)

Glenhaven, located at Aberdeen in NSW’s Hunter Valley will be the focus of the final year for Dairy Smarter Irrigation for Profit. The focus is a 13.5ha centre pivot installed in 2009. The project will seek to identify potential water energy and labour savings at the site. See the site summary and follow the progress here over the coming months.

Scheduling Irrigation Diary for Dairy Pilot

Scheduling Irrigation Diary (SID) is a tool developed by the University of Southern Queensland’s National Centre for Engineering in Agriculture (NCEA), primarily for cropping industries. In partnership, Dairy Australia and NCEA are conducting a small project to investigate if SID has potential as an irrigation scheduling tool in dairy systems and identify the necessary adaptions required for optimal farmer adoption. More information can be found here: Dairy SID Project Promo

Two Gloucester farms used the Schedule Irrigation Diary in the Hunter Starting Smarter project to schedule irrigation’s, hear from Tom and his experiences in the project here: Tom, Hunter Starting Smarter and Adam here: Adam, Hunter Starting Smarter_


NSW Case Study Site 2015-2017

 Rex Tout, Kurrajong Place, Loomberah,tout pivot controller

For additional detail on the project follow this link, to the NSW introduction, a progress update is also available, Tamworth Update. The NSW site will also be producing brief videos throughout the project to keep farmers across NSW abreast of developments. Click here for the first video in the series.”


There is also a video to view to learn how Rex Tout (Loomberah, NSW) is reducing energy consumption and cost through improved efficiencies in pump system design, maintenance and operation.


The Limestone park Field day was held on the 8th of May. Presentations from the day are available:

The projects first field day was held in June 2016, the days presentations are available:



The monthly  Limestone Park Irrigation Update April 2017 is the latest way that you can keep up to date on activity at the Dairy Smarter Irrigation project. Have a look at the link and email Marguerite to join the mailing list to receive each update as they become available.

The “Tales from Cotton” Dairy Tour was an exceptional two days of learning about smarter irrigation systems. Posts from the tour can be found on Facebook  or Twitter #Smarterirrigation. The tour wrap will be available soon.


South Australian Optimised Dairy Irrigation Farms,

The project in South Australia is investigating efficiency opportunities and the value of Variable Rate Irrigation at three sites at, Allendale East, Eight Mile Creek, and Mount Schank.

SA Updates:

Its a Wrap – Smarter Irrigation in SA Workshop, April 2018

Presentations from the final SA Smarter Irrigation Workshop are available here:

The South Australian trial sites provided a weekly update of site activities and irrigation scheduling for the second half of the 17/18 irrigation season.

For additional detail on the project follow this link, to the South Australia introduction.

Catch Can Testing at each sites highlighted the opportunity for significant improvements in pasture productivity at two sites.

Pre season system checks are also essential

The March 2017 Smarter Irrigation updates, covered Energy Efficiency and learning’s from Mt Compass and Mt Gambier irrigation efficiency sites. Overheads from the day are available here:

The projects first workshop and field day were held in August 2016,

The Farm case study is available from DairySA and the SA workshop handouts, and presentations

The first project case study demonstrates the value of conducting a catch can test, Hunts Smarter Irrigation case study.

August 16 028 August 16 039


The Mackillop Farm Management Group have produced a useful “Irrigation Glove Box Guide” that is available at Irrigation Glove Box Guide they have also produced a useful video on catch can testing.



Gippsland Optimised Dairy Irrigation Farm

gips-sprinklerThe Gippsland project was based in the Macalister Irrigation District, on the farmer ownedgipps-gdot Macalister Demonstration Farm (MDF). The farm has four different irrigation systems comprised of surface irrigation, fixed spray, bike shift and sub surface drip, irrigating 72 hectares sown to perennial ryegrass. The Smarter Irrigation project at the MDF is focusing on making the most of existing systems by improving infrastructure and optimising irrigation schedules using soil moisture monitoring technology. Four different soil moisture monitoring systems are being trialled on farm, as well as automation for the surface irrigation system, and improvements to drainage.

An introduction to the project and update on the “Measure to Monitor” project are available:


Western Australian Optimised Dairy Irrigation Farm

The Western Australian site was centered around the Benjer dairy farm of Michael and Sophia Giumelli, with the project evaluating a range of activities including irrigation automation, improved scheduling techniques, alternative crop types and advanced soil diagnostics to improve water use efficiency and profitability across both overhead and surface irrigation methods. Site background is available here: WA introduction

WA have produced a range of videos from their Smarter Irrigation project, The overview video demonstrates crop growth and irrigation scheduling using time lapse. “WA Smarter Irrigation trial 2018″

Commisso Millett gives an introduction to the Commisso site “Commisso Millett Trial 2018“. Commisso Kykuyu provides a time lapse view of the Kykuyu site (no sound)  Commisso Kikuyu 2108. The Maize 2018 video is a timelapse of the Giumelli maize site Maize 2018 while Lab Lab 2018 is also at the Guimelli site. The Maize description gives some general information about the maize that was used at the site.

The WA smarter irrigation report 2018  summarises the project in Western Australia and its outcomes from the 2018 season.

Three presentations from the WA 2018 DID are also available

The 2017 Western Dairy Innovation day included Sam Taylor discussing the findings so far in what is a handy reminder to irrigators that there are always opportunities to optimise irrigation costs.

Smarter Irrigation DI Day 2017 Presentation

Proceedings Smarter Irrigation paper

The 2016 field day included presentations on water requirements, maize and fodder beets. Presentations from the day are available below.

Smarter Irrigation Agenda & Overview


This project was supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources as part of its Rural Research and Development for Profit Programme.