Farmers invited to irrigate efficiently

At a time of increasingly dry weather and low river flows, Environment Canterbury is reminding farmers to make sure they irrigate efficiently when they are permitted to do so.

Marty Mortiaux, Environment Canterbury Regional Manager RMA Monitoring and Compliance, said irrigation consent holders were responsible for the use of water applied to their properties.
“Beyond this, it makes good business sense to do the right thing for their communities and the region as a whole,” Mr Mortiaux said. “All irrigators should make sure their water allocations are used carefully and not wasted, especially in a dry season.”

There are a number of steps farmers can take to make the most of potentially limited irrigation opportunities:

• Plan ahead for possible water restrictions - if you depend on irrigation, decide on your priorities (for example, crops vs pastures or good pastures vs poor pastures) and develop a plan to minimise the impacts of water restrictions
• Make sure you understand the different soils on your property and their water-holding capacities
• Understand how to successfully operate and maintain your irrigation system and calibrate your irrigators regularly
• Schedule irrigation responsibly – for example, consider the probability of any forecast rain and either hold off or adjust the depth applied
• Meet compliance requirements – make sure your water meter is operating at all times and check that your use is within consented rates and volumes (water meter information will also help you work out how much your irrigation is costing you)
• Avoid irrigating non-target areas – particularly roads, waterways and boundaries.
“Check the weather forecast before irrigating. If rain is forecast hold off or adjust the amount of water you apply to take advantage of it,” Mr Mortiaux said. “And if possible also avoid irrigating in strong winds because this affects uniformity and can make scheduling your next irrigation challenging.

“Check weather forecasts regularly to confirm the daily potential evapotranspiration figures for your area. This information, together with soil moisture levels, will guide your decision on when to irrigate next and how much water to apply.

“Check your irrigator to make sure it is operating at correct pressure. This is an easy way to confirm it is operating as it should be. Also cross check your expected flow rate with the rate displayed on your flow meter and make sure sprinklers are not blocked or missing.

“Carry out regular maintenance on your irrigation system to minimise wastage and leakage. If you see someone else wasting water or not complying with the rules, let them know.

“Set up and run your system to ensure that all water abstracted is within the limits set out by your resource consent or scheme entitlement. This may include your instantaneous abstraction rate and daily, weekly, monthly or seasonal volume.

“Finally, have your water meter verified to make sure what is being recorded is what you are actually using. And critically in the current conditions, if your consent is tied to a low flow restriction check the Environment Canterbury irrigation restriction web page daily when you are planning to irrigate to see whether your consent is on restriction,” Marty Mortiaux said.
IrrigationNZ says there is plenty of technology to help refine irrigation application and the industry body can help irrigators wishing to check their current system’s performance. “Farmers can sign up to our SMART Irrigation programme which sets out the framework for responsible and efficient irrigation practice,” said IrrigationNZ Chief Executive Andrew Curtis.

“In a summer like this, more than ever the acid is on irrigating farmers to operate at peak performance,” he said. “If you have any doubts, ask for help to make sure your staff, systems and infrastructure are up to scratch. IrrigationNZ has a range of free and low-cost downloadable resources on our website to guide irrigators and our regular training workshops start again in February.”

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