Researchers from the Victorian Department of Primary Industries (DPI) are using satellites to give farmers an increasingly accurate idea of how much water crops need to achieve optimal yields.
Over the last five years, they have been combining these images with ground based information to measure water needs and productivity in crops.
The research has taken place in Sunraysia and the Goulburn Valley and has included almond, grape, citrus, apple, peach, nectarine, pear and apricot crops.
They first used the satellite images to calculate the water evaporated from the crops and then validated this information with measurements of vegetation cover and yield taken from the ground.
The results showed how much water the crops were using. They also show how much water is needed to achieve optimal yields.
DPI research scientist Mark O’Connell believes that the research could be used to help increase productivity and profitability. It could equip farmers with new information to improve irrigation and water management.
“Accurate data on crop water requirement and yield potential is essential for precision irrigation scheduling, water budgets and assessing crop performance,” he says.
“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.”
O’Connell adds that better information will save irrigators from making unnecessary water purchases and will also improve water management in general. This is another tool to help minimise water stress.
He adds, “This approach allows farmers to deliver customised crop water management right down to the individual paddock....”
The Victorian researchers are now aiming to develop an on-line water management tool for farmers. They will be able to compare the yields and water performances of each of their fields.