Growing more with less

Good soil and irrigation water are essential resources for growing fruit.

In the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District (GMID) irrigators have access to a state-of-the-art irrigation delivery network and pockets of sought after sandy loam soil.

This rare blend of superior assets, gives fifth-generation grower Chris Turnbull an advantage on his orchard.

“The irrigation system we have here is unique and vital,” Chris said.

“One hundred years ago, it was the channel system that brought families, including mine, to the region. In Ardmona, many of those families are still here after investing in the region for decades.

“What sets the GMID apart is that other growing regions rely on farm dams and run off from rainfall to fill those dams. But here, we have a secure water supply and that’s a major asset, particularly in a dry year.

“The result of a lack of irrigation water, or a lack of secure supply is lowered yields and poor fruit quality.”

The Connections Project is the largest irrigation modernisation project in Australia. The Victorian and Australian governments are investing $2 billion to create a sustainable future for productive agriculture in northern Victoria.

It’s supporting some of Australia’s most innovative farmers to leverage smarter on-farm irrigation systems and technology.

For Chris, 43, and his brother Alex, 41, this is exactly what they have done. They’ve capitalised on the value of the region’s secure water supply and nutrient dense soil and spent the past decade modernising their 300ha orchard.

The brothers planted popular, fresh varieties such as apples and cherries in 2002. They also removed most of the orchard’s canning peach and pear trees.

By embracing innovative growing techniques the orchard investment has paid off by achieving higher yields per hectare of land.

“The aim is to grow more fruit while drawing less on finite, natural resources,” he said.

“We have planted more trees per hectare using modern growing systems on a streamlined trellis structure. The new orchards are set-up in stark contrast to the way my grandfather used to plant trees.

“A great deal has changed in horticulture in 50 years. These days, we hone in on benchmarks like how much fruit can we grow per megalitre of water?”

Chris said the drought was a catalyst for growers to adopt water use efficiency, just as it was a trigger for the delivery network upgrade.

“There wasn’t that much demand on the system decades ago so it was viable to run a channel 20km from the main supply to a handful of producers,” he said.

“The upgrade concept was visionary and those involved with the early stages of planning it have helped protect our water supply, keep it affordable and available.

“This undertaking has also secured our role in the Australian economy as major contributors to economic growth and employment.”

Project director Frank Fisseler said once complete, the Project would ensure the future of our farming businesses and our farming communities, which were built on the region’s agricultural prosperity.

“For farming businesses, this means we’re automating water delivery across the region,” Mr Fisseler said.

“Dethridge wheels and manual gate and channel systems are being replaced with automatic systems that allow farmers to get water when and where they need it.

“The upgraded system delivers water-use efficiency of 85 per cent or better, maximising the water available for productive agriculture.”

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