IrrigationNZ says irrigating farmers need to plan now for how they will use their seasonal irrigation volumes as a severe El Nino could mean many farmers will run short of water halfway through this season.
IrrigationNZ ceo Andrew Curtis was responding to Niwa's prediction that the current El Nino pattern is on track to be "the second most intense since 1950", with soils around the country drying out fast and irrigation in full swing as temperatures rise.
Guidelines released yesterday by the government urged farmers to use irrigation water efficiently and plan for water restrictions as they prepared for El Nino. Mr Curtis says the focus for irrigators needs to be on spreading water allocations further this season.
"Timing is everything in a marginal season. Irrigating farmers need to start the season well and maintain consistent performance.
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"Irrigation scheduling is central to this, particularly now irrigators are limited in the water they have through seasonal volumes. With water meters in place, irrigating farmers should be keeping a close eye on what they are using, regularly reviewing soil moisture levels and crop requirements and applying water efficiently as possible. Off the back of another dry winter, there's no room for wastage or poor performance as every drop will be needed.
"We recommend sitting down and planning your water budgets so you know exactly where you are at."
Alongside appropriate irrigation scheduling, checking irrigation equipment is well maintained and performing to specification will minimise downtime, leakage or delivery problems, says Mr Curtis. As the season goes on, regular maintenance will be essential.
"Checking pressure and sprinklers is recommended. Down the track when we get squeezed, water re-nozzling might help stretch volumes out for longer. Alternatively if you operate a number of irrigation systems, plan ahead now to shut off the less efficient ones; long laterals in pivot corners for example if water restrictions start to bite. That way you can continue to operate more efficient irrigators such as pivots and linear moves for longer."
He says the key to surviving this summer will be preparation, and support is available for irrigating farmers to arm themselves before El Nino worsens.
"Our website (www.irrigationnz.co.nz) includes checklists and guidelines covering early season maintenance and we offer training workshops and resource books to upskill irrigators who need advice.
"With an intense El Nino breathing down our neck and the depressed dairy price, it's more relevant than ever to be talking about how we can save money, time and energy by moving towards more efficient and effective irrigation practice."