Growers find water savings with new satellite and weather forecast technology

Growers in the Murrumbidgee and Greater Victoria Region have been the first to benefit from new irrigation research, which has developed ways to combine new satellite and weather forecast data to improve water management in the vineyard.

The three-year research project, conducted by the CSIRO, which ended earlier this year saw the development of a new free seven-day forecasting platform, as well as a package of new training material and free software targeted at grapegrowers who irrigate their vineyards

The threat of increasing costs associated with water and energy use and reduced water availability has been identified by the Australian Grape and Wine Authority (AGWA) – who funded the research – as a major challenge to the future sustainability of the Australian wine industry.

CSIRO research team leader John Hornbuckle said the project’s aim was always working towards providing new techniques which growers could apply using satellite data and weather information to improve water management – in particular irrigation scheduling, which would help growers maximise yields and water-use efficiencies.

The final report, Vineyard Irrigation – delivering water savings through emerging technology, found a large proportion of the industry’s irrigators were not using quantitative tools, such as soil-moisture monitoring, to manage irrigation scheduling – many still relying on ‘gut feel’ or non-quantitative measures.

“When we started we had hoped the Bureau of Meteorology would provide a seven-day reference evapotranspiration forecast for free that was easily accessible for growers,” Dr Hornbuckle said.

“However, this is still in progress so instead we developed our own freely available evapotranspiration forecast using some of the Bureau’s data, which anyone can access from http://weather.irrigateway.net/aws/index.php – initially for the Murrumbidgee and Northern Victorian growing areas.”

Dr Hornbuckle said the research targeted the Murrumbidgee and Northern Victoria growing region as they commonly rely on irrigation for the production of wine grapes so were logical areas for developing the technology.

“Additionally, irrigated growers are very interested in looking at technologies which improve their water use productivity as water is such a high expense,” he said.

“In the end, about 100 growers were involved in trailing the various aspects of the tools developed in the project.”

These growers also helped trial the crop and weather data information’s delivery platforms from mobile phones to web-based platforms.

“The majority of growers indicated they saw value in being able to improve their water management through these approaches, particularly when faced with un-seasonal weather conditions.”

These approaches and techniques, he said, can now be applied by anyone within Australia to help them monitor water use and when combined with a seven-day weather forecast can be used to predict crop water demands out seven days in advance.

“Like all industries in Australia that rely on irrigation, staying at the forefront of water management is critical both from a resource utilisation and also community perception perspective,” he said.

A final outcome of the project, was also the development of training material, which shows irrigators, consultants, and anyone interested, how to apply these approaches using freely available satellite images and easy to use free software.

“The next step is to continue to get water managers using these approaches to improve water management,” Dr Hornbuckle said.

“We are doing this at a range of levels from individual growers, to consultants and also to irrigation companies who see value in providing this information to irrigators when they order water.”

“The approach is low cost in terms of infrastructure and only relies on an investment in time.”

The final report can be found online.

 

A Landsat satellite image of regional crop coefficient (kc) data shown across the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. Non-irrigated crops are shown not coloured.
A Landsat satellite image of regional crop coefficient (kc) data shown across the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area. Non-irrigated crops are shown not coloured.