On-Farm Irrigation Efficiency Program

The On-farm Irrigation Efficiency Program (OFIEP) was an Australian Government funded program that provided assistance to irrigation communities to make early adjustments in anticipation of the Murray-Darling Basin cap on water extraction by funding on-farm irrigation infrastructure modernisation projects.

A minimum water saving of 20 megalitres was required for each individual irrigator project, of which at least 50 per cent or 10 megalitres must be returned to the Australian Government Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder. Water savings made through efficient irrigation infrastructure are returned to the environment to improve the health of wetlands, floodplains and the River Murray.

The OFIEP was part of the Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure Program which aimed to:

  • increase water use efficiency in rural Australia
  • deliver substantial and lasting returns of water for the environment
  • secure a long-term future for irrigation communities.

The types of works funded under the OFIEP included conversion from sprinklers to drip irrigation, modernising existing drip irrigation, laser levelling of paddocks, filtration and fertigation modernisation, surface to sprinkler conversion, soil moisture monitoring, converting to centre pivot irrigation systems; and installation of on-farm automation, monitoring and control technologies. Efficient irrigation systems not only save water, they can also increase crop yields, improve crop rotation flexibility, lower nutrient run-off and reduce labour costs.

The South Australian Murray-Darling Basin Natural Resources Management Board continues to work with the Australian Government to deliver the OFIEP across the southern connected system of the Murray-Darling Basin (this includes the New South Wales Murray, Victorian Murray, South Australia Murray, Murrumbidgee, Kiewa, Ovens, Goulburn, Campaspe, Loddon, Avoca, and the lower Darling (south of Menindee Lakes) river catchments). 

Since the OFIEP commenced in 2010, the South Australian Murray-Darling Basin Natural Resources Management Board has seen great improvements in irrigation/water management on farms across the southern connected system of the MDB. A 2014 and 2015 study of project participants highlighted improved management capacity, increased production, flexibility with irrigation scheduling and the value of water saved as the biggest benefits of modernising irrigation infrastructure.  The 2015 study found upgraded irrigation technology achieved average annualised benefits of $1490/ha/y, of which the majority is due to improved gross margin (production gain). Resilience of a modernised system also provides significant mitigation against drought and low allocations, as water is applied more efficiently and in a more controlled manner.

Huge water savings have been made with reports of reduced leakages since upgrading submains. A strong increase in irrigation efficiency has been noted by growers, with those converting from sprinkler irrigation reporting less run off and no longer any need to manually check sprinklers (a labour/time saving). Crop quality also increased with some irrigators noticing an increase in crop yield and crop evenness (less patchy).

To view videos of past OFIEP irrigation modernatisation projects visit our Youtube Irrigation playlist here

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