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Advice for irrigators over a long, dry summer

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

With much of New Zealand experiencing exceptionally dry conditions, IrrigationNZ has some advice for irrigators on how to make the most efficient use of water over summer.

According to NIWA, several areas in the South and North Island came close to or broke low rainfall records during November, with rainfall well below normal for much of Canterbury, the West Coast, Tasman, Nelson, Marlborough, Wellington, Wairarapa, Manawatu-Whanganui, and parts of Hawke’s Bay, Auckland, and the Bay of Plenty.

IrrigationNZ Chief Executive Andrew Curtis says that during extended dry spells such as this, irrigation plays an important role in ensuring Kiwis can continue to have access to affordable local produce, but irrigators will need to manage their water allocation carefully over this period.

"Checking your irrigation equipment is well maintained and performing to specifications will minimise down-time, leakage or delivery problems. Some systems may be 20-50% out and using more water than you need. Simple early season calibration checks can save a lot of water over the season and are easy to carry out," says Mr Curtis.

IrrigationNZ has a free ‘Check it - Bucket Test’ app which can be used to check irrigators are applying water evenly. The app is available from Google Play or the App Store.

Mr Curtis says that as the irrigation season goes on, regular maintenance checks are essential. "Checking pressure and sprinklers is recommended. Re-nozzling might help stretch out water for longer but this should be done under the advice of a qualified irrigation designer," he says.

"Irrigation scheduling is also critical when your water supply is likely to be limited. With water meters in place, you should be keeping a close eye on how much water is being using, and regularly reviewing soil moisture levels and crop requirements. Sitting down and planning your water budgets will enable you to work out how best to allocate water over the coming months."

Mr Curtis says that farmers who operate a number of irrigation systems should think about using their most efficient irrigation systems more than their least efficient systems to help make the best use of their water allocation. They should also consider limiting irrigation during high winds or extreme daytime temperatures, to make every drop count.

"Investing in good soil moisture monitoring technology is also important. You should check this every day so you know when to irrigate and how much water to apply. Understanding which soils are the least productive and which are the most productive can help you identify which areas would benefit most from irrigation if water is limited. If you have stock, then placing your most productive animals on good pasture makes sense, while less productive stock could be put in areas without irrigation or with less pasture," says Mr Curtis.

"Finally involve your staff in a plan to manage your irrigation systems. If water is limited make sure they understand that any leaks or operating issues need to be fixed as soon as possible. If you have new staff, they need to know how to correctly operate irrigation equipment," he adds.

IrrigationNZ is carrying out a range of training this summer on irrigation management, soil moisture monitoring and irrigation assessment, visit for details.

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