It’s all about irrigating smarter at this Kyabram farm

By Dairy News Australia

Every northern Victorian farmer knows the importance of irrigation and getting the best value out of every single drop of water - Kyabram dairy farmer Andrew Murphy is no exception.

With a milking platform of just 100ha and a spring peak of around 530 cows, the Murphy family including parents Kevin and Jan, have invested heavily in additional land to support a cut and carry system.

Management and fodder growth have changed from a grazing system to include growing around 161ha of cereal crops annually, in particular corn which has been part of the rotation for the last five years.

Corn is grown under pivot on an out block purchased by Andrew, and for the next three years, management, growth and irrigation will be put under the microscope as part of a Murray Dairy project – Smarter Irrigation for Profit 2.

Mr Murphy said he is looking forward to the results.

“We are looking to grow as much corn as we possibly can and get the most efficiency out of the water we have. To have a study done using our own data will be extremely helpful when it comes to looking at our future management,” Mr Murphy said.

Under normal seasonal conditions around 30ha of corn is harvested but this season due to high water prices the area was reduced to 16ha.

“There is nothing like corn to produce bulk feed over a short period. This year we grew a 26t/ha crop in four months, and we will follow with an 8-10t/ha Wrangler wheat crop for young stock feed,” he said.

Mr Murphy said corn is an expensive crop to sow at $500/ha so getting it right from the start is paramount.

“We used 7.7Ml/ha including pre irrigation on a 167mm rainfall season.”

The crop was planted November 15 and harvested March 28 and based on a temporary water price of $400, the corn cost $265 a tonne in the pit.

Through a drought infrastructure grant, Mr Murphy purchased two soil moisture metres which have gone on to become a valuable asset and an important part of management.

The combination of pivots along with moisture meters have given Mr Murphy confidence to grow corn even in an expensive water year, although there is a limit to the price he can pay and like everyone else, he would much prefer a sustainable and realistic temporary water price.

“My idea of timing of irrigation has been different to the meters and we have used more allocation this year, but our yield has improved from 19t/ha last year to 26t/ha.”

Mr Murphy attributes the increased yield to accurate moisture data from the meters but also to a change in contractor. The one pass ‘strip till’ sowing including fertiliser has been a huge advantage, resulting in reduced weed burden and better yields.

Mr Murphy said growing corn and cereal crops supports the cut and carry system well.

This autumn they have sown 30ha of vetch and 42ha of wrangler wheat, along with the 16ha of corn last year.

“Once you are set up for cut and carry it works really well. I think we now have a sustainable farming model moving forward and I am confident in our future.”

The milking platform has 10ha of perennial pasture which might be considered a waste of water by some, but Mr Murphy said it still has a place, especially if the season comes in wet over winter.

Mr Murphy said the Smarter Irrigation for Profit 2 has real value for northern Victorian irrigators.

“A lot of pasture projects are based down south and the data collected from this one will be relevant to so many farmers, especially considering many have changed their management to grow cereals to suit availability of water.”

Murray Dairy site co-ordinator, Lisa Menhenett said the research will reflect local needs.

“In northern Victoria, many irrigation systems are moving to annual ryegrass, cereals and summer cropping for silage. The site in northern Victoria is looking specifically at a surface irrigated double cropping scenario with maize followed by a winter cereal. We hope to address the lack of regional information on these scenarios,” Mrs Menhenett said.