Clare grower Heath Salter (left) with dad Don (centre) and NQ Dry Tropics Sugar Team Leader Luke Malan (right). 

Automated irrigation saves time and money for Burdekin growers

Burdekin grower Heath Salter has hailed the “life changing” benefits gained from installing an automated irrigation system on his parents’ Mulgrave Road farm in Clare.

Thanks to the smartphone-controlled system, Heath said he no longer needed to spend hours travelling back and forth from his home in Ayr to water the property, or getting up at night to manually change sets and check pumps.  

“It’s changed everything – how we use water and manage our time,” Mr Salter said.

“I used to have to drive around the farm two or three times to check whether the water had reached the bottom end, but now I can water most of the farm without even having to go out there.

“I’ve got my weekends back and have more time with my family. My wife and I have just bought a farm in Ayr, which is something I wouldn’t have previously considered due to lack of time. I’m already thinking about how we can automate it to make our lives easier,” he said.

And there are financial benefits too – with latest results demonstrating automation lowered the annual cost of production on the farm by $162/ha, with a return on investment of 25 per cent, and a simple payback of four years based on the total investment. 

In 2018, NQ Dry Tropics supported the Salters to upgrade their manually-operated furrow irrigation system, through a Reef Alliance Project Water Quality Innovations Grant, funded by the Australian Government’s Reef Trust Program.

Don and Heath Salter

NQ Dry Tropics Sugar Team Leader Luke Malan said the Salters, together with growers on six other lower Burdekin farms, had received grants totalling $660,000 to implement innovative solutions to improve irrigation efficiency, across a combined total of 584 hectares.

He said the participating growers had co-contributed more than $280,000, and a recent report on five of the projects – commissioned by NQ Dry Tropics and produced by AgriTech Solutions – had highlighted excellent results.

“Across the five farms assessed the growers saved a combined total of more than $82,376 per year in reduced production costs, with a water saving of 2,090 megalitres per year,” Mr Malan said. 

“The Salters demonstrated great results on their farm, shortening the duration of their irrigation by more than 50 per cent, which equates to nearly 11 hours per irrigation event.

“They used far less water, with reductions of 3.2 megalitres per hectare – equivalent to 652 megalitres over the 203 hectare farm, which is now entirely automated.

“And electricity costs came down too, with pump energy usage reduced by 224 kW.h/ per hectare,” Mr Malan said.

Mr Salter said increasing irrigation efficiency on the farm had not only improved productivity and profitability, but delivered environmental benefits too.

“The amount of runoff into our recycle systems has dramatically decreased, and that reduces 

levels of nutrient and sediment runoff to the reef,” Mr Salter said. 

“And we’re also reducing deep drainage because we’re running our irrigation at a higher flow rate but for a shorter period,” he said.

The entire automated system can be  controlled via a smartphone

Mr Salter said his dad Don had first suggested checking out an automated system on a nearby farm – and once they decided to follow suit, NQ Dry Tropics supported them every step of the way:

“NQ Dry Tropics has been amazing, from helping with the initial grant application, to providing ongoing support throughout the process,” he said.

“The hardest part of the installation was trenching the cable underground, but nowadays you don’t even need to do that anymore. “I’d recommend to other farmers to definitely give automation a go. It’s a no-brainer and it will change your life,” he said.