Researchers from the Department of Primary Industries (DPI) have combined ground based information with satellite imagery to measure water needs and productivity in horticultural crops right down to the paddock level.
For the past five years, the researchers have been utilising satellite data to calculate the water evaporated from almond, grape, citrus, apple, peach, nectarine, pear and apricot crops in Sunraysia and the Goulburn Valley.
They then validated this information with on-farm data taken from measurements of vegetation cover and yield. The results showed an accurate picture of how much water horticultural crops were using and how much water was needed to achieve optimal yields.
DPI research scientist Mark O’Connell said the research could boost growers’ productivity and profitability by equipping them with new tools to improve irrigation management.
“Accurate data on crop water requirement and yield potential is essential for precision irrigation scheduling, water budgets and assessing crop performance,” Mr O’Connell said.
“It’s often difficult to detect how much water you’re going to need in an orchard or vineyard as they have different vegetation cover characteristics and the local weather conditions vary.
“Our research has found that using satellite data to gauge evaporative losses and vegetation cover, combined with ground-based weather data, could obtain an unparalleled degree of precision in measuring a crop’s water needs and yield potential.”
Mr O’Connell said by providing new on-farm water requirement assessments and tools for water saving, irrigators would save money on water purchases and help maximise their productivity during years of low irrigation allocations.
“This approach allows farmers to deliver customised crop water management right down to the individual paddock and provides us with a regional perspective of crop performance.
“By accurately matching irrigation with a crop’s water requirements, we are helping to minimise water stress and save water without penalising yield.”
He said the researchers were now working to develop an on-line tool for irrigators to compare the yield and water performance of each field and crop.
“Hopefully in a few years time farmers will be using satellite information and online weather forecasts to tailor irrigation to individual crops and paddocks,” he said.