Bankless irrigation enhances water efficiency in St. George, Qld

St. George cotton growers, Saunders Farming, have recently adopted a bankless irrigation system to enhance water efficiency on their property "Plantation" in southern Queensland. This innovative system has demonstrated notable water efficiency gains of up to 20%.

Established over half a century ago by industry pioneers Alan and Lenore Saunders, the farm has evolved under the leadership of their son, Craig Saunders, and his wife, Sharon. In the past two decades, the farm has expanded to over 900 green hectares, with a primary focus on cotton cultivation.

Water access, reliability, and variable climate conditions have historically posed challenges for Saunders Farming. However, recognizing the need for improved water use efficiency, the Saunders family embraced the Farm Business Resilience Program. This initiative provided a pivotal opportunity to transition from traditional siphon irrigation to the more sustainable and water-efficient bankless flood irrigation system.

Reflecting on the initiative, Craig Saunders stated, "As farmers, we hate paperwork, and when I saw all the criteria, it looked like a bit of effort. However, the Farm Business Resilience Program, coupled with the support of our accountant, Dan Chappel, paved the way for us to transition to bankless irrigation."

The Saunders Farming bankless system, designed by irrigation expert Glenn Lyons, has proven to be a game-changer, boasting water savings exceeding two megaliters per hectare compared to conventional siphon systems. Collaborating with Padman Stops, Saunders Farming is now on the path to full automation, ensuring optimal timing for opening and shutting gates, thereby maximizing water efficiency.

Eager to share their success, Saunders Farming regularly holds farm walks to demonstrate the efficiency of the new bankless system. The implementation has not only optimized water use but has also increased yields and machinery efficiencies while reducing labor requirements.

The project, supported by a Drought Preparedness Grant of $50,000 from the Queensland Government, encountered challenges, including unexpected cost overruns due to weather delays and increased diesel and freight prices. Despite these challenges, the grant significantly reduced the overall project cost by 17%, enabling Saunders Farming to continue its commitment to sustainable and water-efficient farming practices.

Expressing satisfaction with the outcomes, Craig Saunders stated, "We can grow more with less, positively impacting our local environment and communities. Our neighbors have witnessed our improved crop yields, and the new bankless system has created unexpected opportunities for collaboration, even in times of limited water supply."

The success of the Saunders family's bankless irrigation system serves as a beacon for other farmers seeking to enhance water efficiency. Craig Saunders recommends the Farm Business Resilience Program as a valuable tool for farmers to evaluate and improve their operations in preparation for future challenges.

Farm Business Resilience Program

The Farm Business Resilience Program is jointly funded by the Australian Government's Future Drought Fund and the Queensland Government's Drought and Climate Adaptation Program.

For more information visit: Farm Business Resilience Program - Queensland Farmers' Federation (