THE ABILITY to produce more tonnes with less water was the major focus for dairy farmer Anthony Wood, of Byrneside, in the Goulburn Valley of Victoria.
Mr Wood runs the family business, Deloraine Holdings and milks 500 cows as well as producing a range of forage cropsacross the farm.
Recently they converted dryland blocks into irrigation with a 36 hectare block of Netafim sub surface drip irrigation which was installed in November, 2017 and planted with maize on December 17.
“We've been very impressed with it,” Mr Wood said. The water usage so far has been 3.2 and I think it will be about 3.5 megalitres per hectare.
“Comparing that to some of our flood planted on the same day, it is less than half and it had the same conditions.
“We are going to be forced to utilise the valuable resource that we've got which is water. If this crop gives us 24 tonnes - that is eight dry tonnes, per megalitre, which is remarkable.”
He said as the business became more intensive they needed to make use of outer areas as support forage fodder blocks.
“This was earmarked for that and so we decided that we didn't want to graze on this block. It wasn't on our grazing platform anyway. It was trying to pick the right system for this block and how we would get the most value out of this block converting to irrigation.”
Mr Wood said while the cost of sub-surface irrigation was significantly higher than a flood system, the payback was very quick.
“The extra return on the drip and the cost for that is very quick pay-back. We think this will pay for itself in 18 months to 24 months, with the yields that we plan and the yields that we are actually going to get.
The aim is to double-crop. We'll go straight into a cereal crop with vetch and hopefully pull 6 to 8 tonne off that and then go back into corn again. This will focus on just delivering our silage.”
“We do grow another 25 hectares of corn this year, on flood, and that will probably, be gradually turned to grazing country if this keeps performing the way it has.”
He said the drip system will allow them to grow more fodder to support their system and provide flexibility with the other paddocks.
“It is not just what we grow from here. It is what it does for our whole business. It creates variability, flexibility in the rest of our business."
Mr Wood said they placed the sub-surface drip at five feet spacings which provides further options for other crops in the future.
“We can put row crops in here, we can grow veggies, we could do lots of different things and that's why the main decision was to go this way. It gives you a variety of options, not just to grow cow feed.”
The sub-surface drip is also being utilised for fertigation and has proven to be an excellent partner to the other products applied higher up in the soil structure.
“We like to utilise as much fertiliser of our own or compost,” Mr Wood said. We can just feed the plant what it needs. You can just apply a tiny amount of the fertiliser straight to the plant and straight to the roots.”
He said the irrigation system was effectively run off the phone, with the water schedule delayed if rain was coming and brought forward if conditions were hot and dry.
“It was pretty daunting when we put it in. We were laying a tape and had a lot of money going in the ground and I was very stressed. Since we've done it once now, I'm very comfortable with it and I look forward to doing more.”
A major advantage of the sub-surface irrigation has been the savings in time compared to the flood system.
“We've had another 25 hectares in flood and the amount of work I've put into that has been huge, compared to this, ten times probably for half the size, half the area. It is just so much easier to manage.”
• This article was supplied by Netafim