Irrigation Insight

The Irrigation Insight programme is focussed on developing knowledge, tools and the confidence of dairy farmers in better managing irrigation, precisely applying the water needed—where, when and how much.

Irrigation Insight is a collaborative research programme between industry and CRI’s including NIWA, DairyNZ, Fonterra, AgResearch and IrrigationNZ, that builds on NIWA’s earlier pilot work in Canterbury. The research examines the application and effectiveness of using improved weather forecast and drainage estimations to inform on-farm water management on irrigated dairy farms. The programme aims to support dairy farmers in moving away from a ‘just in case’ or ‘just in time’ scheduling towards an irrigation approach that accounts for both current demand and future supply. The five-year programme, started in October 2016, focuses on environmental, social and economic aspects of irrigation management.

The programme has four inter-linked components:

1. On-farm decision support tools tested on 10 farms

The pilot farms have been set-up with instruments to profile the soil moisture and gauge rain. Soil moisture and temperature are measured at eight discrete depths, from the surface to 80 cm depth, allowing management of irrigation and drainage simultaneously. The rain gauge measures rainfall and irrigation. Data from these instruments are telemetered every hour and are available for farmers 24/7 in real-time. 

2. State of the art weather forecasting

NIWA provides state-of-the-art, place-specific weather forecasting for the pilot farms. The weather forecast contains information on rainfall (how much will occur and when), air temperature and relative humidity. The forecasts are bias-corrected using locally collected weather data.

3. Economic modelling

The economic component of the programme assists farmers in understanding the financial gains and losses resulting from their irrigation management choices. It will capture both direct (e.g., power use) and indirect (e.g., loss of production from reduced pasture growth due to wet or dry soil conditions) costs.

4. Feedback loops for real-life fit

The programme is designed around a co-innovation model which relies on engaging stakeholders right from the start. The stakeholders include farmers, regulators, researchers and industry professionals. The stakeholder group assess the effectiveness of proposed solutions in saving farmers’ time for water management with an increased ability to make better, more informed decisions.

5. Findings shared through a knowledge exchange

Programme progress and the development of new knowledge and tools will be shared through a variety of communication channels, including a programme website. Find out more about the programme at which will be launched in June 2018. If you would like to stay up-to-date with the programme sign-up for the regular e-newsletter in the news section of the website.


The Irrigation Insight programme is funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE).


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Principal Scientist - Catchment Hydrology