Microsoft word - jason size - irrigation.doc

Jason Size, Horticulturalist, Chairperson of the Bookpurnong Lock 4 Environmental Association Renee Thompson, Senior Policy Officer, Department of Water Land and Biodiversity Conservation Abstract
Since 2005 irrigators in the Riverland of South Australia have faced extreme challenges in managing and maintaining their properties as a result of the most extreme drought in recorded history. Jason and Tony employ a number of management tools to protect the viability of their stone fruit business in these times by making the most of available resources. These techniques include;  Detailed water management utilising the Irrigation Reporting and Evaluation Software (IRES) developed by Primary Industries and Resources South Australia. (This program is further detailed in the paper Irrigation Accounting at Property and District Scales, Two Case Studies. Written by Tony Adams, Denis Sparrow and Simon Knowles of Irrigated Crop Management Service – Rural Solutions SA).  Participating in promotion of the district and engagement with Government agencies on  Uptake of on-farm technologies such as continuous soil moisture management.  Utilising the water market, critical water allocations and carry-over water. This paper will provide a unique perspective into the decision making process for the Size’s property utlising the tools available to them to meet the current challenges of being an irrigator during the worst drought in recorded history on the lower River Murray. Introduction
The Brand family stone fruit property is located in close proximity to Lock 4, in the Riverland Region of South Australia. Today the property consists of approximately 30 varieties of stone fruit produced for the fresh fruit domestic and international markets on 26.17 hectares. The challenges facing horticulturalists in the Riverland range from quality control, pricing, marketing and natural resource management and are significant in any given year. However since 2005, the worst drought in recorded history has increased those challenges significantly. This paper describes the hands on day to day approach of one family to meet those challenges and the methods they have employed along the way. Presented at the ABARE OUTLOOK 2010 conference, National Convention Centre in Canberra, 2-3 March, 2010 Like many horticultural properties in the Riverland, the orchard of the Brands was established after World War Two when Tex Brand came back from fighting overseas and settled down with his wife Betty Brand on a property in Bookpurnong. Over the years Tex’s son Tony Brand slowly took over his father’s property of predominately citrus and dried stone fruit varieties and slowly started converting the traditional “fruit salad” block to specifically fresh market varieties of stone fruit. The original orchard became known as Brand & co. In 1994 Jason Size and wife Jo-Anne together with her parents Tony & Karen purchased a neighbouring property with the purpose of starting an orchard and partnership called Bookpurnong Fruits. The original orchard was 11 Hectares and the new property was vacant with irrigatable land in the region of 11 Hectares that grew to a potential of 31 Hectares in 2001. Previously to 1994 marketing of produce was largely determined by individual bartering
with wholesale agents and just accepting current prices for citrus or dried products. As
individual growers there was little opportunity to influence the price paid for produce. In
1994 in recognition of this problem, Tony Brand and a group of similar growers of fresh
stone fruit decided to get together as a “unit” to supply greater quantity to agents both
domestically and internationally. The main focus of this group was consistent quality and
quantity of a particular line of fruit. This group has operated successfully since its
establishment predominantly due to the fact that growers, who once competed with each
other, put aside their loyalty to their own brands and developed a trust in each other to
work together to survive the next generation. The trademark and brand label developed
by the group is “Zest” with the slogan “The great taste every time”. The Zest Group
consists of a variety of orchard size growers from 10 hectares to 50 hectares but the
focus is always on producing a high standard of quality stone fruit consistently to the
The Zest group is a vertically integrated group, which focuses on supply from the orchard through to the customer. It has an impact right through the supply chain and adjusts its operations through feedback from its customers immediately. It is proactive in supplying stonefruit that meet customer requirements. This process happens within the orchard as the first stage and continues throughout the growing and supply chain process. As an owner of a marketing company it has a direct influence on price feedback and market demands to enable real time information and communication back to growers. “Zest” has become recognized in the Stone fruit market, both in Australia and in overseas markets as a brand synonymous with quality. As a group it has grown in its supply base to incorporate growers of similar quality, and quality control procedures outside of South Australia. This supply has enabled further marketing advantages with more control over supply decisions. Although still not price makers, it has provided more opportunity and power in negotiating supply and price than would have been the case if they were operating as individuals in their own right. The Zest group has also recently invested in a single packinghouse to streamline and improve efficiency of operations as Page 2 of 7
part of the supply line. This allows us as growers to react and respond immediately to market and customer requirements as needed. Research & Development is integral to Zest operations with the establishment of a variety evaluation site on an individual property where the grower’s time is dedicated to evaluate and record data that is observed on a seasonal basis. The grower is supported to do this work by all growers involved. As data is collected on a particular variety it is assessed as to whether it is deemed worthwhile from a marketing point of view to be commercially planted. It is believed to be the largest grower run evaluation site in Australia with a host of varieties selected to represent breeders from all around the world. The site includes approximately 300-350 varieties. Other research trials are constantly undertaken to improve yield and fruit quality parameters within the orchards and packinghouse. Innovations in Horticulture
As horticulturalists the Brand family recognise the importance of consistent development of the property and the product they produce for Zest. The adage “if you don’t do anything then you are going backwards” is an ideal that has pushed progress on the property every year. The types of trials undertaken include; • Extenderday reflective tarps that provides light manipulation within the orchard to improve size and colour. Each roll is 100 metres long by 4.5 metres wide and is placed on the orchard floor for increased light within the canopy. First year results provided an increase of one count in size and 30% more colour. This enabled that particular variety to remain viable for the forseable future. • A magnetic water conditioner was installed in 2008 to provide some indication as to whether this technology improved the availability of water applied to the stonefruit. Magnetic water conditioners use magnetic fields to change the structure of water to improve its quality. While quality is not necessarily an issue in the River Murray at Bookpurnong currently, low flows may lead to higher saline conditions. • Chemical trials have also been undertaken including maturity delay (Retain), crop control (Ralex), IPM pest reduction (Pheromone baiting stations), frost reduction strategies (seasol) and soil based microorganism renewal strategies. • Implementation of moisture monitoring systems to assist in providing water to the plant at critical times. This is not only important during the drought when high temperatures are experienced but at other times from flowering to fruit set and the lead up to harvest. • Improvements in irrigation recording systems and through the use of IRES software (Irrigation Recording and Evaluation Software) developed by Rural Solutions SA and trialled on farm via funding support provided by the South Australian Murray-Darling Basin Natural Resources Management Board (SAMDBNRMB) Page 3 of 7
• Change and improvement in irrigation systems, scheduling techniques and control systems that provides greater flexibility and reduces the time required to manage irrigation events. • Evaluation of new varieties for future plantings. The Brand property on average changes at least one to two crop patches each year to make way for new and better varieties and to maintain production levels. Innovations in District Management
In 1998 a community group of concerned irrigators was established in Bookpurnong to investigate the potential impact of irrigation on the River Murray. This group was referred to as the Bookpurnong Lock 4 Environmental Association (BL4EA) and was established to identify and investigate areas of concern that were having an impact both environmentally & socially on the local community. A major issue of concern was continued decline in the health of the floodplain adjacent to the Bookpurnong area and saline seepage into temporary lagoons. The group sought assistance from the State Government and accessed funding from the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality (NAPSWQ) through the federal government. What followed was a more thorough understanding of the hydrogeology of the region by the local community and the drivers for discharge of saline groundwater both the floodplain and the River Murray. The Bookpurnong Lock 4 Environmental Association championed the need for a salt interception scheme for the area and promoted the drivers for the problems the district was experiencing amongst Government and local irrigators. The group also initially proposed that they invest in the scheme as a private entity and be accountable for a certain proportion of the salinity impact generated at Bookpurnong by new development. However due to the rules applied to the construction and management of salt interceptions schemes by the (then) Murray Darling Basin Commission, private investment was not permitted and the scheme was built by the MDBC and the South Australia Government and was commissioned in 2005. While the salt interception scheme addresses the historical impacts of irrigation and mallee clearance, the Bookpurnong Lock 4 Environmental Association continues to exist to identify and implement new ways of improving irrigation efficiency to offset future impacts of irrigation. It relies on its cohesive structure and social well being to strive forward as a region that is recognized within the government water agencies as a proactive and innovative group. In September 2004 the Bookpurnong Lock Four Environmental Association signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the South Australian Murray-Darling Basin Natural Resources Management Board (then referred to as the River Murray Catchment Water Management Board) and the Department of Water Land and Biodiversity Conservation (then referred to as the Department of Water Resources) as a demonstration and Page 4 of 7
commitment to work together to progress new ideas and concepts to be trialled and established within the region. The most prominent example is the on-farm implementation and support for the Irrigation Reporting and Evaluation System (IRES) developed by Rural Solutions SA. The Bookpurnong Lock 4 Environmental Association is also close to completing an updated Land and Water Management Plan for the area. Drought proofing
In the Riverland of South Australia low water allocations have been enforced since 2003 in response to declining inflows into the Murray-Darling Basin. Up until this point high security allocations in South Australia had been 100% secure therefore management of low water allocations was not a common practice in the region. The Brand/Size property has taken various steps to best manage for drought and believe it is possible to drought proof, however it does take time. The change in irrigation practices has been a stepwise progression since the early 1946 when the initial crops were watered by hand. In the early 1950’s the property upgraded to portable pipes that slowly pumped water to overhead sprinklers. Following the 1960’s the family invested in permanent overhead irrigation combined with permanent supply infrastructure in the form of main lines and sub-mains. These water supply lines were then used to supply water to full cover under tree irrigation in the late 1980's. From there the full row cover under tree sprinklers were changed to partial row cover sprinklers which targeted the root zone of the crop for more efficient irrigation. About this time tensionometers were implemented to provide more insight into soil moisture management and to allow improvements in irrigation scheduling. This was combined with a Grape Marc mulching program to reduce evapotranspiration from the wetted area beneath the crop as this was readily available and easier to supply than other mulches at the time and included a perceived nutrient benefit. Mounding within the tree line to enhance root development within the irrigated zone was also undertaken in hand with ongoing development. In early 2000 and onwards the property invested in converting to and trialling dripper technology. This worked in conjunction with more sophisticated soil moisture monitoring in the form of capacitance probes across the property, which currently has 10 sites. These sites are now linked by radio directly to computer systems to allow for easier viewing and interpretation of the data. Irrigation valves were also standardised and grouped to allow complimentary irrigation of patches with the same water requirements. By 2008 irrigation had been streamlined through the use of an automatic control system and one third of the property was operating under drip irrigation. Since this time conversion to drip has continued and irrigation events are controlled via a computer based system that also monitors irrigation events. This process of improving practices and integrating new technologies and tools has occurred over half a century, but has been of significant benefit during years of low allocations. Having a good understanding of how to use and manage these technologies Page 5 of 7
prior to a drought, means that many of the problems are ironed out before the consequences become highly problematic and expensive for the crop in question. However no system is absolutely perfect or totally automatic. Soil moisture monitoring can fail and should always be calibrated on installation. Soil moisture monitoring sites are also minimal when compared to the total area planted to a crop; therefore soil moisture should be physically checked at alternative locations. This also goes for automated irrigation. Computer screens can be misleading and a physical check of soil and tree health will always be the ultimate guide. All irrigation systems need to be monitored and checked regularly as wear and tear, damage by pests, blockages in the line and faulty equipment can result in the loss of a crop. In low water allocation years good record keeping is also essential as one mis-managed irrigation can result in going over your allocation and occurring fines. Paper records are essential as a minimum, however the ability to analyse seasonal records is limited via this method alone. The Brand/Size property participated in a trial of Irrigation Recording and Evaluation Software (IRES) in the 2004/2005 irrigation season and has continued its use since this time. The software is data hungry but does allow analysis of seasonal trends. Through the use of IRES every valve on the property has been mapped including details on the irrigation system and crop type. Standard system design information including flow rates and application rates are checked against actual meter readings to determine if there is any discrepancy between the water applied and the amount which should be applied based on the specification of the system. This software allows records to be kept on water usage for specific valves or varieties. New versions of the software also allow production figures to be entered to better gauge non-performing patches and also allow the irrigation manager to incorporate ETO forecasts as a way to predict water deficits. Data taken from capacitance probes on the property can be incorporated to adjust specific crop factors against historic or out of date crop factor information developed through the use of long term average data. The software also requires frequent meter readings, however these are necessary anyway during times of low water allocations to prevent exceeding the allowable allocation. As many properties in the Bookpurnong area utilise this software, the district can compile a report on a larger scale that includes district scale field application efficiency and changes in irrigation water use on an annual basis for Government agencies. Government policies and programs have also been key in protecting irrigation areas from the devastating impacts of drought. These programs include water trade, the introduction of carry-over and critical water allocations. Timing and understanding how the water market behaves to determine the best time to lease water is critical. It has become a “must” in our orchard to lease, however it depends on timing. The market price for water is monitored regularly to determine the volatility of the market. This assists in providing some insight into what drives prices to rise or fall and then plan to make decisions at these points. On average the property may lease small amounts early in the season and then monitor the water market for one or two more trades as the season progresses, depending on government policy at the time. By utilizing water resource updates Page 6 of 7
provided by Government agencies and water providers, there can be some confidence in the likelihood of future allocation increases to guide water purchase decision-making. This process is done with all partners. Any government policy that may enhance the decision making process is utilized by the Brand/Size family, and they, like many other growers will do what ever is necessary to access legal water. As quoted by Jason “At this stage of our business we can not afford to let trees suffer for just one year as that will impact on future income we also need to crop regularly and not just let trees live/survive for the next year with ongoing debt financing obligations and responsibilities we need to produce an income and as long as expenses do not overtake the income then that is all you can do”. Is the property drought proofed?
Changes on the Brand/Size property may seem subtle given the time period over which they have been implemented. However, it is only when you look at the bigger picture that implementation of new technologies and improvements in management have prepared the family for periods when horticultural management is at its most challenging, such as the current drought period. The data provides a convincing argument. • In 1995 the owners amalgamated water licences from the partnership property and the parent property to allow greater flexibility for water management across the two properties without the need to continuously trade water from one block to another. • The parent property held 148ML on its water license, which was combined with 115ML from Bookpurnong Fruits, providing a total water allocation of 263 ML. • In 1995 water use by the parent company Brand & Co. was 155ML and Bookpurnong Fruits 15ML, irrigating a total of 10.79 hectares (30 acres). In 2008 water use on the combined orchards of 26.17 hectares was 170ML. • Given the time line in change of irrigation infrastructure and implementation of mulching we have more than doubled our efficiency since 1995. This gain in efficiency is coupled with ongoing economic viability. Conclusion
Horticultural management in the Riverland of South Australia is always challenging, but
never more so during the worst drought in recorded history. The Brand/Size property is a
good example of a business responding positively to changes in resource availability and
market pressures and striving to continue to update and identify in advance anything that
may improve business outcomes. This paper describes a dual focus of property owners on
managing the production and marketing of their product in combination with improvements
on farm and within their district, which have been of significant benefit to the viability of their
business long term but also including the current period of low water allocations.
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