Articles, Blog

Peter Durand, Irrigation Australia – Innovations in on farm irrigation


SPEAKER: What I want
to talk about here is just some of the numbers that
help to frame where we’re at and why innovation needs
to occur on-farm in general around the world, and then we’ll
gradually specify that down to an Australian level. So these are sort
of big numbers. And what we’re looking at
is, in 2050, the population will be growing. And that’ll be–
that is expected to be an additional
32% of the population. And further to
that, the population will require a high-calorie
requirement on a daily basis. The prediction that
comes from both of those is that food production needs
to increase by more than 50%. So as farmers who are using
irrigation to grow crops, that’s a really significant
driver to innovate. There’s a very
strong need for them to change the way they
do things and to continue to be more productive. At the same time, we’re
in a scenario where there’s limited resources. So there’s a certain amount
of arable land available to us as we know it now. And because of the
growth in population, that’s expected to
decrease by 20% per capita. What that means
is that there will be a deficit in
the available water and that the
characterisation there is that 4 billion people
will live under water stress. So again, a very strong
global driver that’s driving agriculture everywhere. If we bring that now
down to the use of water on the global level– we’re now on the graph
to the right there– you can see that around about
70% of the available water is used for agriculture. That is then used to irrigate
about 20% of the arable land. And then the final one there
is that those irrigation methods are largely
relatively inefficient. And efficiency’s
quite a difficult term to use when you’re
talking about irrigation, and I’ll come back
to that in a minute. But generally speaking,
on a global level, there are a lot of people using
relatively less efficient means of irrigation. So there’s a driver there
for that to increase. Again, just some
big-picture stuff. This is where agriculture
exists in the world. And you can overlay that. You can see the
areas in red there are those areas
which are defined to be exposed to water stress. And then you can look at
agricultural efficiency. And this is purely just an
overview in terms of crop yield. So actual yield compared
with relative potential. You can see Australia, Australia is definitely
at the higher end of the agricultural
productivity scale. But as I’ll talk about,
there’s still some scope for improvement there. OK, still on the global level. What we’re seeing is
farm consolidation. And I don’t have the
Australian data to hand. I’m sure there’s people
who do in the room. But here we can see
from the US, and here we can see some European
countries, where we’re looking at the average farm size. And you can see that’s
increasing over the years. That’s definitely something
we’re seeing in Australia. As I said, I can’t quantify it,
but it is definitely occurring. And that changes the type
of farmer that we’re seeing. And this is something I
see in my day-to-day role that we’re now dealing with
consolidated areas of more of the corporate style,
the ag investors, people who treat farming in a
slightly different manner. And what we see is that they
strive more for advanced practise adoption. They’re more comfortable
with adopting new practises. And I believe that’s a strong
driver for innovation as well. Having someone who’s
willing and certainly capable of bringing in new
practises and implementing them on-farm. So I guess putting those
last few slides together, we get sort of a picture
of where we’re at. We have a situation
where there’s a growing demand for
food due to population growth and the requirement
for an increased calorie consumption. We have limited supply factors. Both land and water
are scarce resources. And again, I’ll come
back to this term here. I know that’s a
little blunt there. But largely speaking,
around the world, water that is used
in agriculture could be used more efficiently. What that is driving
is an increased demand for water-efficient
solutions and, coupled with that, higher productivity. So finish with this one on
the sort of global scale. This is not necessarily
related to irrigation, but what it shows
is that there’s a lot of consolidation,
mergers and acquisitions, a lot of activity in the
on-farm business marketplace. So these are large
companies that have recently merged together. And I believe that’s
occurring because there’s a need for them to
innovate, and they believe that they can
be more powerful if they share the synergies that
come with those mergers. That’s happening in the
irrigation market as well. It’s not quite as– the numbers are certainly not
quite as dazzling as those ones there. But these are really significant
companies merging together, and I think that’s an indicator
that innovation is well and truly already happening. So let’s come down to
Australia, and we’ll start now to bring it
down to the farm level. I’ll start with the global talk. And I mentioned that
efficiency is a tricky word. The reason it’s tricky is
that each of these application methods here– we have
gravity through to drip– each of them do have,
broadly speaking, a range of efficiency. But the way that they’re
used by the individual dramatically relates
to what efficiency can be obtained from those methods. So it’s always
quite tricky to talk about what is more efficient
than something else. But generally speaking, you can
rank them in this type of order here, where you have the less
efficient methods at the top down to the more efficient
methods at the bottom. I’ll briefly just
go through those for those who may not be
that familiar with irrigation in Australia. We have gravity flood or surface
irrigation, as it’s known here. That relates to the
top two images there, and they’re quite
typical of what you see in terms of
surface irrigation systems in Australia. You have either a
series of channels, or you might have a whole bay
that is flooded with water. And in many cases you might
have a header channel here with syphons leading out
of that to irrigate down those channels. I purposefully left a
person in this image because each of
those syphons does need to be started manually. And so I think it sort of talks
to the potential for innovation where you’re removing that
labour requirement as you change to different methods. So that’s the top one. That’s gravity flood
or surface irrigation. You’ve then got a range
of sprinkler irrigation application methods. And they range a little bit in
terms of their efficiencies. So some of the, I guess,
less efficient methods are these two here. This is a big gun, so you
might have seen these. They’re quite visible
as you’re driving through agricultural regions. Basically, a big jet of water
that goes in a circle and it’s towed through the crop. Then you’ve got these
wheel move systems. Again, if you live
in an area they grow Lucerne
or some vegetables, you would have seen those. Also in the sprinkler
category, though, you have devices such as
this centre pivot here, or lateral move machines. And here it’s still a
sprinkler-irrigated method, but it’s more efficient
because of the ability to adjust the speed of
the pivot and adjust the flow of the
nozzles and the ability to control it without the
requirement for somebody to be involved. And then the final one
you’ve got there is a picture of drip irrigation. Specifically, that’s
drip in a vineyard. And I do want to make the
point that crops in Australia have evolved to use
particular irrigation methods. And I think it’s
important to remember that that’s not necessarily– that doesn’t necessarily
have to be the case. So you can flood
irrigate a vineyard, and in years gone by
that was certainly the chosen method, just
as you can irrigate a rice field with drip. So it’s not necessarily– I think there’s, in some
cases, a misconception there that a
particular irrigation method needs to match the crop. That’s not always the case. In terms of why you
get the efficiencies, I think it seems relatively sort
of anecdotally evident to me. When you have water in the
field subject to evaporation, subject to wind drift. In this case you can see
already there there’s some wind taking effect there. You lose the efficiency to
some degree of the system. You’re not– when we’re
talking efficiency here, we’re talking about delivering
a certain volume of water to the crop that requires it. As you move along
the spectrum, you’re then delivering a more
precise amount of water with less potential for
losses along the way. So before anybody questions
me later about the fact that why our particular
method’s used in Australia, there’s some really
strong drivers as to why surface
irrigation is still quite prevalent in Australia. And it’s this here you can see. This is the variability
of our rainfall. What you see in
the top graph there is, surface irrigation
is the red line, and the other two lines
are sprinkler and drip. And you can see the
high variability. And this is the
area of land which is irrigated by surface
irrigation in a given year. The ABS hasn’t
done it every year. But what you see is
that, from a peak here in 2005, a significant drop. And the reason for that
is, as we all know, that was the drought. Water was not available. To invest in a sprinkler
or a drip system requires a capital investment. You’re installing
equipment in the field. And if you don’t have a
good degree of reliability that you can operate
these systems, then it’s unlikely to
be a wise investment. So in many areas in Australia,
you have low security of water, and therefore you’re actually
essentially almost forced down a certain path, which
is surface irrigation. And what happens there
is, these systems, they still were out there. They just didn’t have any water
go through them for two, three, four years. So those farmers needed
to wear the loss. Had they had the capital
investment of a pivot or a drip system in the field, then
obviously their losses would have been much greater. So I say that because I think
it’s important to realise that it’s not just that a farmer
can make a decision to change an irrigation
application method. There’s a lot of other
factors at play as well. So you saw earlier, I had the
global picture of how much was flood, sprinkler, and drip. This is the Australian situation
as of 2013, 2013 and ’14. And it’s a little
bit hard to read. I’m sorry. But if you start
from the top, it goes through the
list in this way. So you have about 60% surface
flood gravity irrigation in Australia. You then have the two
drips, both subsurface and above-surface
drip applications here, coming to about 11%. 4% in micro spray,
and then the balance in overhead sprinkler methods. I think– in the
current environment, I think it’s good
to see this because, although certain
farmers will still be required to go for a
particular application method because of their
environmental situation, like I explained on
the previous slide, I think this shows that there
is still some significant upside to improvement in irrigation
efficiency in Australia through just simply changing
application methods. And I think it’s particularly
valid in this session because we have the
federal government, who’s investing in improving
irrigation infrastructure. And I think it should
be a positive sign that, at least in my opinion,
there is room for improvement with efficiency in agriculture. And simply just on this alone,
just on the application methods that are used. So that was the on-farm
application method. So I said I wanted to talk
about technology as well. What you see here is
two tables prepared by the Boston Consulting
Group last year. And what shows in this one is
this is investment in ag tech. And you can see it’s
dramatically growing in the last few years. So people are realising that
there’s investment potential in technology for agriculture. Interestingly, in
this case, that’s despite falling farm
incomes, at least in the US. So that’s a pretty
significant sign. If you break that down here,
what you see is the biggest– these are the
investment categories that these companies then
allocated for their investment. And you can see the biggest
one is big data and analytics. And that was a recurring
theme from the digital session earlier, where they’re
seeing the ability to collect large amounts of
data and make decisions on that. The session earlier talked more
about all the off-farm data packs that are available,
2,900, I think it was. When you’re talking
about on-farm, you’re talking about
collecting site-specific data. And the way that looks in
the industry we’re from, which is the on-farm, it’s about
collecting data from the field. So this is a page just taken
from one of our Irrigation Australia member websites. And it just demonstrates
the sorts of things that you’d want to collect. So you’re taking soil moisture,
plant characteristics, weather, wind, et cetera, et cetera,
flows in the system. You’re taking that information,
putting it up in the cloud, combining that with
all the data that’s available from all the
other sources out there, and then making decisions
and enabling that decision to be then creating an
action in the field. And this is very much the
next wave, if you like. Application methods are there,
but this is the front line and this is the next
wave, I believe, of what will take the next gain
in efficiency for irrigation. And I think it’s
demonstrated by the fact that there are a significant
number of companies right now vying
for a system that can do what I showed in that
previous slide the best. At the moment,
this is a snapshot of the companies that were
at our exhibition last year. There’s just been
a proliferation of companies that are
trying to design and develop a system that does what I
showed in the previous slide. And I think it’s really
heartening to see. In one case, one
of those companies has been purchased by a
large overseas company. So you can see there’s
a lot of activity. And as I said, this
is the front line. Someone who comes
up with this system, I think they recognise that
there’s big potential there. So I’ll finish– I’ll
just finish with a quote, because it’s quite– I think it’s an
interesting quote, and it’s a little bit
of a plug for Irrigation Australia’s training and
certification programme as well, in that you can have
all the technology and you can have the best
application methods. Yet if you don’t
have the intelligence to be able to drive the system,
then you won’t get the outcome. I’ve purposefully
not put who said that quote because
I thought I’d ask if anybody knows who said that
because it’s quite interesting. No? It’s relevant because
we’re in Canberra. It was Alfred
Deakin back in 1890. So he was our– there’s probably
better political scholars than me. But as far as I know, he was
our second prime minister. 1890, he wasn’t the prime
minister, but he was, I think, the commissioner for water. And he was quoted as
saying that during a speech to a conference
for irrigationists, which is a term that’s
gone by the wayside. And I just think
it’s really relevant. But A, the fact that
he said that in 1890 and it’s still relevant today. And obviously because
we’re in Canberra and he was the prime minister. So there’s my contact details. Please feel free to grab me. I’ll be here for the
next day or so anyway. But if you want to get
in touch, then that’s my contact details up there. Thanks for your time. [APPLAUSE]

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