Katunga family enjoy benefits of farm modernisation

Irrigation modernisation has made Peter and Agnes Nolan's farm more efficient and easier to run, and they can now get water at "the touch of a button at Tatura".

Peter and Agnes Nolan have spent more than 30 years building a dairy farm from scratch on their Katunga property after moving from Ballarat.

Their 200-hectare farm sees them milking a herd of 350 cows – and these efforts translate into 190,000kg of milk solids which they supply to Murray Goulburn each year.

So when the Goulburn Murray Water (GMW) Connections Project approached them about three years ago to discuss farm modernisation initiatives, Mr Nolan was happy to consider what it could mean for the property.

A three-year plan was agreed so work could take place in stages – which saw the property’s aged irrigation infrastructure rationalised and a new connection to the modernised system implemented.

“There was a lot of pre-planning work,” Mr Nolan said.

He said this involved decommissioning of a major spur channel and removal of 11 dethridge wheels to allow a connection to the backbone channel and installation of two automated meters.

“It’s made running the farm a lot easier, there’s better water flow – and modernisation adds value to the farm,” he said.

“We had good contractors – they were easy to work with.

“We also applied for an on-farm efficiency grant and invested a significant amount of our own funds to improve our on-farm productivity.”

He said reducing the number of outlets and getting a better flow rate had been worthwhile.

“The flow rate has improved so much with modernisation of the channels from the backbone. They’re in good condition,” he said.

“Physically it’s also easier for me; I don’t have to bend down as much to get to the outlets.”

Instead, the water is released by “the touch of a button at Tatura” once the water order has been placed.

Mr Nolan said he intends to further automate his farm however last year’s shock fall in dairy prices has slowed the pace of change.

GMW Managing Director Pat Lennon said the Connections Project team, led by Project Director Frank Fisseler, has spent $100 million on winter works this season, across a range of projects in the Goulburn-Murray Irrigation District.

“The $2 billion Connections Project is vital for our region and Northern Victoria – to build a sustainable future for our customers, farmers and communities,” Mr Lennon said.

Mr Fisseler said it was great to see outcomes being achieved for irrigators and the project itself.

“We’re looking forward to seeing how modernisation through the project can benefit more farmers as it continues to move forward,” he said.

“There has been so much happening during our Winter Works program this year and it will mean more irrigators will benefit from the modernisation this season.”

This includes 35km of pipeline at seven sites, remediation of 33km of irrigation channels and channel automation at more than 271 sites.

In September 2016, Minister for Water Lisa Neville officially re-set the Connections Project to secure the region’s irrigation infrastructure for future generations, following the release of a mid-term review.

The reset included an improved delivery model and increased transparency and certainty for landowners.

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