On-Farm Irrigation Efficiency (Pilot Projects) Program

The On-Farm Irrigation Efficiency (Pilot Projects) Program aimed to test delivery models for acquiring water savings from future on-farm works programs. The experience and information gained will help inform how the Australian Government will work with irrigators in the future.

This program is part of the Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure program which is funding key rural water projects to improve the efficiency and productivity of water use and management.

Final applications to the program closed in August 2008.

 J Baker

Drip irrigation pipes under vines Photo: J Baker

Importance of improving on-farm efficiency

Irrigated agriculture accounts for about 70 per cent of all water use in Australia. This water is not used as efficiently as it could be. For example, up to 20 per cent of water delivered to the farm gate may be lost in distribution channels on-farm and around 60 per cent of water used for irrigation on-farm is applied using high volume, gravity irrigation methods. Some 10-15 per cent of water applied to crops is lost through over watering. More can be done to better match water application to crop water requirements.

By improving on-farm irrigation efficiency, the return from crops can be enhanced due to the reduced inputs required, the environment and its natural resources better protected and the long-term sustainability of industries improved. Crop quality and yield may increase due to improved water application and reduced water logging.

How on-farm irrigation efficiency can be improved

Methods used to improve on-farm irrigation efficiency vary widely by region and with the commodity under irrigation. The ways on-farm irrigation efficiency can be improved include:

  • adopting technology that better matches irrigation water application to plant water requirements;
  • reconfiguring irrigation layouts;
  • installing infrastructure, such as recycling systems and piping, to improve on-farm storages and delivery systems; and
  • installing new infrastructure, such as drip or spray systems, to improve in-field applications systems.

Program outcomes

Successful projects

On 2 March 2009 the Minister announced three successful projects, providing $5.6 million in funding for investment in on-farm irrigation infrastructure. Applicants who received funding approval were:

  • Lachlan Catchments Management Authority - $1.5 million - Funding agreement signed 17 July 2009
  • Border Rivers-Gwydir Catchments Management Authority - $2.7 million - Funding agreement signed 3 August 2009
  • Murray Irrigation Limited - $1.3 million - Funding agreement signed 30 August 2010

Lessons learned

Development of the Pilot Projects Program has already yielded some important lessons (these are outlined in more detail in the report Improving On-farm Irrigation Efficiency):

  1. Investment in improving on-farm irrigation must take place within the wider context of overall farm planning (for example, through application of water efficiency plans), as well as regional planning (such as catchment management strategies or wider irrigation area plans).
  2. Improving the efficiency of low technology irrigation infrastructure may be as cost effective as funding a significant upgrade to more sophisticated irrigation technology.
  3. Due diligence on water entitlements and on technical aspects is a vital part of the project assessment process.
  4. While project funding must realistically reflect the costs of new infrastructure, the transferred entitlements must also represent good value for money for Government relative to the prevailing market price.
  5. It is important to establish agreed mechanisms for sharing project risks around the timing of the transfer of water entitlements as part of any program design.
  6. While individual projects will have direct benefits for irrigators, in terms of improving their on-farm infrastructure, there is also potential for broader benefits of providing demonstration projects as a basis for capacity building and training.