Drought and dairy: the case for water-smarts

amy fay talks to kerry de garis

How is dairying coping with drought? What water-smarts are they adopting?

Amy Fay, strategic projects manager at Murray Dairy, said dairy farmers are increasingly looking at water as a feed input.

Addressing the evokeAG forum in Melbourne, she explained that, unlike crops, dairy still can have a product through better water use-efficiency and by using conserved feed and fodder, reducing reliance on irrigation.

She explained that the northern Victorian dairy industry is worth $900m annually mostly spent regionally and employs 9500 people.

“Northern Victoria has one of the most advanced public and private water delivery systems,” she said. “We’ve had billions invested in irrigation technology and soil moisture scheduling,” she said, but added that technology had to be fit for purpose. “In my work we have to look at it through a systems approach. It’s no using irrigation on a European ryegrass cultivar that requires large amounts of water.”

While perennial ryegrass has been the region’s traditional primary feedbase, the industry is now looking at alternative crops such as sorghum and maize. Farmers are also conserving quality fodder as silage to reduce reliance on perennial ryegrass. “They use bought-in or carryover feed, so are not so reliant on summer water.

“Also we’re adopting the techniques that dryland cropping has found to work, in terms of conserving soil moisture.”

Research for Agriculture is among 1300 agribusiness participants attending the evokeAG conference.