Grant paves way for improved cotton soil health and strategic water use

Aaron Kiely grows cotton in Emerald, Queensland.

With 520 hectares of irrigation country, Aaron Kiely is always keen to maximise his water efficiency and stewardship.

So it was with great enthusiasm that he accepted a grant from the Fitzroy Basin Association for a whole-of-farm project aimed at soil health and water efficiency.

The project is a collaboration between an agriculture research & development firm, farmers, NRM and economic development agencies, as well as students from the Central Highlands VET Network Drones in School program. The trial is aimed at increasing awareness of innovation in sustainable land management providing longer term benefits for the broader catchment of the Fitzroy Region.

“We’ve water metered all our farm which goes back to a dashboard, soil moisture probes which have soil temperature, soil salinity, there’s five weather stations connected, all pumps are metered; so the grant is just one farm network to be able to collate all that data in one, to be more sustainable and efficient on the farm,” Aaron Kiely said.

After speaking with a few growers in the Central Highlands area of Queensland, the idea came about to trial various water applications and amounts. This was done by a Queensland Farmers’ Federation (QFF) electricity audit, which measured energy use, including the cost of power and water.

Following the QFF audit, Aaron made use of a QFF electricity grant which resulted in the replacement of one of his motors and pump, yielding an energy saving of 7.6% and increasing pumping performance by 21.3%.

“To pressurise water costs a lot of money; so, you’ve just got to understand what was the most efficient for that centre pivot. Once we started to monitor that pivot, we understood the soil temperature, so planting cotton past October was getting too hot. The soil temperature could be 32 degrees, but with moisture on top and the heat in the afternoon, the soil temperature in the top 10cm could be 52 degrees so it would burn the cotton off.”

That gave Aaron the idea to meter all water for each paddock so in drought years he can break down which paddock would be the most water efficient to utilise his water on.

“With our centre pivot, it changed my planting period; so anywhere with cotton I wouldn’t plant any later now than the middle of September, depending on the heat.”

The trial, which will conclude mid next year, is helping them to understand all the data which is captured and analysed to ensure the best outcomes for all stakeholders.