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Irrigation Insight is a five-year cross industry project that aims to examine, on working farms, the ease and effectiveness of using improved weather forecasting and drainage estimations for on-farm water management. The programme uses a collaborative approach bringing together multiple stakeholders with diverse perspectives on water management.

The knowledge, tools and experience for a balanced approach

The future of irrigation is about making better use of available water.

Find out more about the water usage challenges irrigating dairy farmers face and how the Irrigation Insight programme can help them achieve a balanced approach that is both economically sound and environmentally responsible.

About the Programme

The Irrigation Insight programme has four inter-linked components

On-farm decision support tools tested on 10 Canterbury dairy farms

On-farm technology: One irrigated paddock on each farm will have a profile soil moisture sensor and rain gauge installed. Data from these instruments will be telemetered in near-real time and combined with up-to-date high-resolution weather forecast to present a snapshot of past, current and future soil moisture demands and forecast rainfall and evaporation.

State-of the-art forecasting: Weather forecasts will be provided by NIWA’s state-of-the-art weather prediction systems. This will include forecasts from a large domain model, that accurately describe the evolution of weather systems that affect New Zealand, and a high-resolution terrain-resolving model that forecasts rainfall, temperature and wind. These place-specific forecasts will include estimates of the reliability of the predictions and will be bias-corrected using locally collected weather data.

Understanding through Economic Modelling

The economics component will use modelled and actual data to understand how management of pilot farms changes in response to improved soil moisture and weather forecast information. The aim is to help farmers understand the economic impacts of irrigation management choices to enable better, more informed decisions. It will capture changes in cash costs (e.g. electricity), changes in pasture growth owing to soil water conditions and the cost of water and nutrients lost below the root zone.

Feedback loops for real-life fit

The programme will test that the irrigation scheduling processes or solutions identified are a good fit for the farmer and farm system, as well as the irrigation scheme and regulatory authority. The social component will involve interviews and workshops with farmers and other relevant stakeholders throughout the programme to ensure understanding of the real-life application, measure how much change is occurring and to design more useful tools and practices.

Findings shared through a knowledge exchange

Programme progress and the development of new knowledge and tools will be shared in a variety of ways, including this website and e-newsletters. This will include the development of educational and training programmes to encourage information dissemination as well as providing the basis for wider discussion. We will also be working with industry partners to ensure that farmers have clear, science-based messaging and that knowledge resources are not duplicated.

Programme update - August 2020

As in any co-innovation programme the process is time and resource consuming, but the outcomes and outputs are far more sustainable and tested by users. We are getting plenty of opportunities to learn from each other – scientists learning to communicate state-of-the-art weather forecast data, while farmers are learning to integrate weather in their water management decisions.

Three irrigation management tools are under development for testing and refinement in the final year of the programme:

HydroEcon - designed to help farmers make strategic irrigation decisions such as scheduling approaches and infrastructure development

IrriMate - incorporates soil properties, current soil moisture, future rainfall and evapotranspiration, and costs of irrigation to help farmers choose when and how they irrigate

SoilMate app - combines soil moisture measurements from a mobile soil moisture sensor and NIWA’s high-resolution weather forecast to provide a site-specific 6-day soil moisture forecast.


Our Partners

Key industry leaders are paving the way for the future of irrigation in New Zealand.