Ray Thornton runs a 240 hectare property located at Yalca in Northern Victoria, growing wheat, barley, faba beans canola and maize. With his old irrigation system much of the workload was centred around the four hours it took to manually irrigate each bay. He constantly had to stop what he was doing elsewhere on the farm to close and open bay outlet gates. He invariably found he was running late, which led to over watering.
Irrigating also meant getting up throughout the night to manage gates. “The alarm clock would go off and I would go out and change one, then I would get back to sleep and the alarm clock would go off again. So it was sleep depriving.”
Looking to improve his lifestyle and ultimately generate more profit, Ray decided to take advantage of government irrigation modernisation funding and convert his border-check surface irrigation to an automated, high-flow system.
Ray’s on-farm irrigation upgrade coincided with upgrades to his supply service, which involved decommissioning a supply channel and replacing it with a pipe and riser system. Ray replaced the rest of his bay outlet gates with high flow gates and looked for a system to automate them.
For Ray, three things were important: robust and reliable hardware, software that he could use on the move and a system that would automatically alert him if there were any problems. “You need to be able to run it from somewhere else without having to try and log onto your home computer. Some of the systems don’t have fact reporting, so you don’t know if they have opened or shut or if there has been an issue with an outlet”.
“I am getting towards the end of my farming career and it will be nice to be able to continue on for so many years without the stress of irrigating.”
Ray met all these needs and more by choosing a FarmConnect High-Performance Surface Irrigation Solution. The solution involved installing 69 automated BayDrive outlet actuators, a soil moisture sensor and a rain gauge to provide accurate information on crop water demand. Each device is connected to a farm radio network and remotely monitored and controlled by cloud-based FarmConnect software.
The system enables Ray to set his bay gates to automatically open and close in sequence according to a precisely timed schedule, making it practical to implement the short run times needed for high flow irrigation.
Ray’s life is no longer dominated by managing irrigation. He now sets an irrigation to commence and the system takes care of it. “With the automation it doesn’t matter, you just set it going and away it goes.”
Comprehensive fault reporting means Ray can be off site and rely on the system to inform him of progress. When a rolypoly plant became lodged in a bay gate preventing it from closing Ray could take action before it became a problem, despite being 30km away from the farm.
“I was in Numurkah at the time and the phone rang and the message came through to say that outlet seven has had an issue; it couldn’t close properly. I then manually closed it from my phone from Numurkah. So it is nice to know that it actually works, the fault checking does work.”
He said the system had eliminated the need to get up in the middle of the night, providing a better night’s sleep and a greater quality of life. “I am getting towards the end of my farming career and it will be nice to be able to continue on for so many years without the stress of irrigating. I moved to auto steer on the tractors, probably six or seven years ago, and that has done the same thing. So that has been a major plus and now with the automated irrigation it is a bigger plus again.”
As well as lifestyle improvements Ray said he could envisage benefits in yield, crop quality and water savings. With less waterlogging crops have the potential to achieve higher yields and greater profitability. “That’s the thrust of everything, more money in the till at the end of the day. That’s what we all strive to do.