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Water Matters - Issue 38, March 2016

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​​​​​​New technology preparing farmers for uncertain climates

Satellite image of ord riverAustralian farmers work in one of the most variable climates in the world, which makes preparing for drought and other climate risks a constant challenge. To help farmers take advantage of the good times and plan for tougher times, the Bureau of Meteorology will be making a number of improvements to its seasonal forecasting service over the next three years.

The Australian Government has allocated $3.3 million under the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper to improve the resolution and frequency of seasonal outlooks. These changes will provide farmers with better information to make decisions.

The benefit for the agricultural sector will be more accurate forecasting, which is a vital part of on-farm decision making. This will ultimately help farmers to improve their livelihood and, in turn, Australia’s economy. The potential value of improved seasonal forecasts to Australia’s agriculture sector has been estimated at more than $1 billion each year.

The resolution of the seasonal prediction model will be enhanced from 250 kilometres to 60 kilometres—which means the information will be more localised and relevant to individual farmers. Forecasts will be updated weekly rather than monthly, allowing farmers to react to our ever-changing climate with more confidence.

These improvements are made possible by the Bureau of Meteorology’s new supercomputer, which was funded by the government in 2015. Set to be operational later this year, it will be 16 times more powerful than the Bureau’s current computer.

The Bureau will continue to consult stakeholders, including farmers, to make sure the information provided by the service is easy to access and understand. The first improvements of the seasonal prediction service will be made publicly available in early 2017.

For all of the Bureau of Meteorology’s agriculture services, visit Water and the Land page on the Bureau’s website.


Drought loans supporting Australian farmers

Image of man holding seedlingRecurring drought is a harsh reality in Australia, and can place enormous pressure on farmers who rely on rainfall for their livelihoods. We can't avoid drought, but we can plan and prepare for it. The government's drought-related loans can support farmers to manage through periods of hardship and build resilience and the ability to manage and prepare for future droughts.

There are two types of loans available, designed to be used for different purposes with different eligibility requirements, loan terms and interest rates:

  • Drought Concessional Loans are for debt restructuring, operating expenses, and to assist farmers to prepare for drought and recover from it.
  • Drought Recovery Concessional Loans assist farm businesses in drought conditions recover when the season turns, by undertaking planting and/or restocking activities.

Under the schemes, farm businesses can get a loan to help with the costs of planting next season’s crop, restocking or to restructure an existing eligible debt. With a variable interest rate, currently just 3.05 per cent for Drought Concessional Loans and 2.71 per cent for Drought Recovery Concessional Loans, the potential savings and benefits for farm businesses are considerable. For example, on a $1 million concessional loan, a farm business could, depending on individual circumstances, save approximately $25 500 in annual interest payments (based on a comparison rate of around 5.6 per cent). Such savings are worth further investigation and consideration, and farmers are encouraged not to self-assess and to seek advice.

Both loan products allow farmers to borrow up to 50 per cent of an eligible debt, up to a maximum loan limit of $1 million.

The loans are part of the Agricultural Competiveness White Paper, the government's plan for building stronger farmers and a stronger economy.

For more information about the loan products and to find out which loans are open in your area, visit agriculture.gov.au/drought or call the department on 1800 900 090.


Queensland farmers encouraged to apply for water efficiency programme

The new pump station at Bill Knight’s farm, ‘Berrinjar’Queensland farmers are enjoying the benefits of water savings—thanks to an ongoing water efficiency programme—and helping to restore our environment at the same time.

Farmers in Queensland Murray-Darling Basin are encouraged to apply for the Healthy HeadWaters Water Use Efficiency programme, now in its tenth round of funding. Eligible zones have expanded to include the Condamine catchment, Lower Warrego and additional Border Rivers zones, meaning more irrigators now have the opportunity to participate.

Farmers can receive funding for a range of water-saving projects, such as converting siphon systems to bankless channels, or upgrading or replacing water storage to boost capacity and minimise water losses. Approved projects will receive funding for up to 90 per cent of costs.

Queensland cotton grower, Bill Knights, received funding for two projects on his farm ‘Berrinjar’ in St George. One of his projects was constructing new water storage including a pump station, which almost doubled his capacity to store his water allocation on-farm. Bill estimates the change in his storage location and capacity will save him 190 megalitres per year.

Water savings generated by funded projects are shared between the farmers and the Australian Government. The government component of water is returned to the environment and used to restore rivers, wetlands and floodplains, helping to ensure the future health of the Murray-Darling Basin.

Since the programme’s start in 2010, more than $100 million of funding has been spent on 57 projects, resulting in 10.3 gigalitres of savings for farmers and a further 17.5 gigalitres returned to the environment.

With nearly $54 million still available in funding and applications closing on 30 June 2016, now is the time to put in your bid.

You can find more information on the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines website, call (07) 4529 1321, or email HHWUE.

The programme is funded by the Australian Government and is being delivered by the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines.


Nuts about improving water efficiency

Image of young treesFunding for irrigation infrastructure will help 'bridge the gap' to the sustainable diversion limits under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan.

The department’s On-Farm Irrigation Efficiency Program (OFIEP) is a $626 million program to assist growers in the southern Murray-Darling Basin to modernise their irrigation infrastructure and return water savings to the environment. Applications for OFIEP are closed.

The program, now in its fifth round of funding, has had a number of success stories including Lacton Pty Ltd’s Lindsay Point almond-growing property in Victoria.

OFIEP funding provided Lindsay Point with $875 455 for four projects between 2012 and 2016. These projects included the installation of an automated drip irrigation system, to deliver water more efficiently to trees and provide precision nutrient distribution.

“Drip irrigation provides for more flexibility and we’ve made between 1.5-1.7 megalitres water savings per hectare,” said agronomist John Kennedy.

“We’ve also noticed an increase in long term average yields from 2.5 tonnes per hectare to 3.2-3.4 tonnes per hectare,” said Mr Kennedy.

The project has also benefitted Riverland businesses and will contribute towards securing a long-term future for the local irrigation community.

“OFIEP has been used to make the property more robust and able to maintain productivity in the case of another drought.”

A root stock trial is also underway to investigate which varieties suit different soils and weather conditions. These rootstocks can be grafted onto other varieties to help them survive drier conditions with less available water.

OFIEP is an initiative of the Australian Government, in partnership with state and territory governments and delivery partners.

More information about the On-Farm Irrigation Efficiency Program is available on the Department of Environment website or by phoning 1800 218 478.


Using technology to grow more with less

Image of wineryThe On-Farm Irrigation Efficiency Programme (OFIEP) funding is also delivering a high-tech wireless irrigation system for a vineyard in South Australia's Pike River region.

Curtis Vineyards received $189 000 to convert 20 hectares of grape vines from sprinkler irrigation to drip, as well as the installation of a pump station, valve assembly and flushing mains.

“One of the advantages of installing modernised technology is the ability to communicate remotely with a wireless irrigation system via SMS,” said Louis Curtis, director of Curtis Vineyards.

“If the pump is blocked, the automated system will send a text message to my mobile phone as an alert.”

Since installing the new infrastructure, Curtis Vineyards has recorded a 20 per cent water saving, returning 46.5 megalitres to the Commonwealth.

“The OFIEP funding came at a perfect time to help fund the conversion to drip irrigation infrastructure,” said Mr Curtis.

“We can grow more with less water.”

Mr Curtis said he can determine when and how much to water the vineyard by observing the weather, soil moisture monitoring data and the general health of the vines.

“Automated drip irrigation is user-friendly but we still need to stay on the ball because failures can cost a lot of money.”

Curtis Vineyards is one of many properties around the Pike River floodplain—a 6700 hectare area of high ecological and cultural importance.

Environmental water supplied to the floodplain will help prevent further decline of ecological health and assist with management of key threats such as altered flow regimes, elevated saline groundwater, obstructions to fish passage and pest plants and animals.

The Curtis Vineyards project is also benefitting local businesses and will contribute towards securing a future for the local irrigation community.

For more information about the On-Farm Irrigation Efficiency Program, visit the Department of Environment website or call 1800 218 478. ​ ​ ​​​ ​​​​​ ​​​

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