Irrigation Insight


Irrigation Insight (Justified Irrigation 2016-21)

Economically sound and environmentally responsible irrigation decision-making 

Irrigation Insight (2016-21) is a joint industry programme (Crown Research Institutes, farmer, water user groups, regulator, industry and extension professionals) funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) to examine, on working farms, the ease and effectiveness of using high-resolution weather forecasting, production potential, and drainage estimations for on-farm water management. A selection of pastoral farmers from the Canterbury region were engaged using a co-learning based participatory approach. Co-learning revealed an over-lapping yet distinct understanding of the meaning of water use efficiency. The programme has focused on co-developing knowledge and tools that include all three perspectives on water use efficiency.

Our Programme

The Irrigation Insight programme had four inter-linked components: 

Led by NIWA, in collaboration with DairyNZ, Fonterra, Perrin Ag, LIC, AgResearch and IrrigationNZ, the five-year applied research programme has focused on understanding the environmental, social and economic aspects of irrigation management, working with a collective of stakeholders to understand barriers to changing current practice. It has also quantified the economic and environmental benefits of improved water use efficiency from integrating high-resolution weather forecast data with on-farm soil moisture and irrigation measurements.

Our findings 

Perspectives matter 
The co-learning process revealed an over-lapping and distinct understanding of the meaning of water use efficiency

  • Researchers described water use efficiency as a practice that justifies the application of each irrigation event by considering current crop water demand and forecast rainfall (water supply)
  • Regulators and land managers described it as a practice that avoids over-irrigation and prevents drainage of excess irrigation water and leaching of nutrients below the root zone  
  • Farmers described water use efficiency as a practice that mitigates crop water stress and supports productivity. 

Tools support data-based decisions

A series of farmer-friendly decision assessment and evaluation tools have been developed that brings together diverse datasets (rainfall, irrigation, solar radiation,relative humidity, wind speed, soil moisture, soil temperature, pasture production, river flow and water use) combined with knowledge of climatic, soil, specific on-farm irrigation practices, irrigation infrastructure, irrigation supply-demand dynamics, and high-resolution weather forecasting.

Behaviour change is sustainable if you easily demonstrate cause and effect 

Through the Insight plot visualisation, farmers can review irrigation decisions and see the impact of those decisions on pasture growth, soil moisture and drainage. This allows farmers to see the cause and effect of their decisions and to modify future decisions if required, reviewing based on data and learning through their own experience. 

Our tools 

The programme developed tools to support on-farm water use decision making. 

IrriMate - Should I irrigate today? 

IrriMate is an operational tool that helps farmers and regulators to easily connect cause to effect (rainfall to irrigation to drainage and to pasture growth). Used daily, in the office and ‘on the fly’, by farm managers and staff to determine and coordinate efficient on-farm irrigation activity, it is a highly visual story of everything irrigation-related to support daily and near-future decision making.  

The IrriMate insight plot 

IrriMate includes a new way to visualise measured and forecast soil moisture movement, weather forecasts, and potential pasture growth data – through the Insight plot. It includes current soil moisture demand and forecast weather conditions; near-real-time depiction of irrigation, soil water conditions within and below the root zone, signalling the occurrence of drainage; and modelled daily pasture growth linked to available soil water within the root zone. 

Insight plot example.

Making the invisible visible: Take the insight plot tour

This visualisation of soil moisture data alongside weather forecast and pasture production has enabled a transformative change in farmer behaviour. It offers farmers a way to understand complex information immediately; it uses real-time, localised data and offers the versatility of views to inform and support decision making. The IrriMate tool also includes long-term records that capture a farmer’s irrigation behaviour over time, that can provide compelling evidence for the regulator, demonstrating best irrigation management practices. 

Case study brochure (PDF 6.57MB).

IrriSet - What irrigation approach fits my farm? 

IrriSET is an irrigation strategy evaluation tool that helps farmers to link soil type, water supply and irrigation infrastructure to match best irrigation scheduling methods now and under changing climate. It is used by farmers, usually in consultation with others such as farm consultants and bankers, to inform business strategy on the possible benefit of enhancements to irrigation scheduling and infrastructure development.  

IrriSET provides farmers, banks, industry, and regulators data to understand the effectiveness of current irrigation practices under a changing climate and the level of future proofing that would be needed to enable environmentally sustainable, socially acceptable, and economically sound irrigation practice. 

IrriSet update.

Hear from our pilot farmers

Programme Summary (PDF 768KB)

Other Irrigation Insight resources

Impact in practice 

Data to information to impact: Co-learning from end-user engagements Impact Planning Evaluation Network (iPEN) Webinar - July 2022

Making sense of impact (Vimeo)

Why would you have evaluation embedded in a project?

Insights on Impact: Lessons from NIWA’s Irrigation Insight Evaluation Impact Planning Evaluation Network (iPEN) Webinar - July 2022

Final slide IPEN (PPT 16 MB)

The programme team 

  • NIWA: Dr MS Srinivasan (programme leader), Graham Elley, Dr Paula Blackett, Dr Trevor Carey-Smith, Richard Measures, Alex Fear, Dr Stephen FitzHerbert, Jordan Luttrell 
  • Perrin Ag Consultants: Carla Muller 
  • Independent Evaluator: Toni White  
  • Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) United Kingdom: Dr Sam Beechener  
  • DairyNZ: Mark Neal 
  • IrrigationNZ: Vanessa Winning


Our funder: Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) 

Research partners: NIWA, DairyNZ, Fonterra, Perrin Ag, LIC, AgResearch and IrrigationNZ.

14 pilot irrigating dairy farmers and pastoral farmers from the Canterbury region along with regional council (Environment Canterbury) regulators and land managers, and industry professionals. 


Dr MS Srinivasan
Principal Scientist - Catchment Hydrology

Contact Dr MS Srinivasan